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TIMES CAMP FUND

Siblings will get a break from a violent world

June 27, 2003|Shane Nelson | Times Staff Writer

Ray and Rayshan Jones speak matter-of-factly about the dangers in their gang-infested South-Central neighborhood. The 11-year-old brother and 12-year-old sister recount how they heard the gunshots -- they counted nine -- that killed a friend's father in a drive-by shooting. It's normal for the two to pass drunks and prostitutes on their walk to school. And they've learned to sleep through the ever-present sound of helicopters, sirens and gunshots.

Their single mom, who is making the transition from welfare to work, recently qualified for housing assistance and is hoping to move the children and their 5-year-old sister, Deidrah, out of their dingy but neat one-bedroom apartment soon. This summer, Ray and Rayshan are spending a lot of time watching television, and sometimes they shoot hoops in the trash-ridden alley out back.

They will have many outdoor activities to choose from when they spend a week at Camp Alpine Meadows in Big Bear, with the help of the Los Angeles Times Summer Camp Fund.

"It's just too bad it's only for six days. It needs to be for a month," said their aunt, Pam Broom, who works for the Sheriff's Department and volunteers at United Peace Officers Against Crime. The 15-year-old organization of Sheriff's Department volunteers operates the camp annually for more than 300 underprivileged children.

Broom signed up her nephew and niece for camp to provide them some fun in a safe and controlled environment. The organization's motto is "children learn what they live." Its mission is to provide them alternative experiences from which to grow.

Founder and executive director Tony Campbell said most of the kids who go to the camp have "never been out to smell the pine needles and see the squirrels." He first attended camp as an 8-year-old through a program for inner-city youths. "It just touched me," he said of that first camp experience. "As a human being, it does something to you."

The "at-risk" kids participate in a career day and an evening dance at camp, as well as learn about the dangers of gangs and drugs in small breakout groups with off-duty deputies.

Ray and Rayshan don't want anything to do with gangs, their aunt said, yet they are constantly pressured to join, especially Rayshan, who is big for her age and exceedingly shy.

The children, whose father lives in Mississippi, are looking beyond their neighborhood to a future of helping others. Rayshan hopes to be a nurse, while Ray wants to "have my own business to help homeless people."

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About 11,000 children will go to camp this summer thanks to the $1.4 million raised last year.

The annual fund-raising campaign is part of the Los Angeles Times Family Fund, a fund of the McCormick Tribune Foundation, which this year will match the first $1 million in contributions at 50 cents on the dollar.

Donations are tax-deductible. For more information, call (213) 237-5771. To make credit-card donations, visit www.latimes.com/summercamp. To send checks, use the attached coupon. Do not send cash.

Unless requested otherwise, gifts of $25 or more are acknowledged in The Times.

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