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TIMES CAMP FUND

In Malibu Canyon, paths to confidence

Camp Bloomfield gives visually impaired children a place all their own and helps them discover independence.

June 04, 2004|Hilary E. MacGregor | Times Staff Writer

Way back in a Malibu Canyon lies Camp Bloomfield, one of the largest camps for blind children west of the Mississippi River.

Run by the Foundation for the Junior Blind, most Angelenos will never see it or even drive by it, but each summer nearly 1,000 blind and visually impaired children and their families go there to hike, sing, put on skits and play crazy games with beeping balls.

Most important, it gives blind children a chance to be with others like themselves.

Here, they will receive encouragement and inspiration. Ricardo Garcia, 19, of Los Angeles, who is blind in one eye, attended Camp Bloomfield each summer for eight years. He said camp was always an escape, a place where he could stop thinking about what people think or say for just a little while.

This year, he will begin his second year as a counselor. He said his goal is to teach campers independence.

"A lot of these kids are sheltered," Garcia said, because parents worry. "I know parents are trying to help, but there are kids who don't know how to put on their own socks. It makes me sad."

Walking past the chaparral and live oaks on a spring day, it's hard to believe this is a camp for blind children. There is a baseball backstop, swings, a climbing wall.

Camp Director Frank Cardenas said children, who come from as far away as Texas, play dozens of games, modified for them.

Campers shoot arrows at giant targets -- the bull's-eye is a balloon, so it pops if they hit it.

Most popular of all is goal ball, a combination of bowling and soccer. Players roll a beeping ball toward the goal, while defenders try to block it. The campers leap and dive like Olympic athletes.

Once each session, campers hike a quarter of a mile up a steep, winding path to spend the night in tepees, in the shadow of an old water tower.

Staffers say it is amazing to watch children blossom at the camp. Many arrive shy, withdrawn and fearful.

Over the course of the week, the children learn to run, walk tightropes and swim in the pool. Some campers come away transformed.

"Camp forms the foundation for a lot of self-esteem and confidence," said Cardenas. "They walk away saying, 'I can swim. I can climb. I can do anything.' "

The camp can be equally inspiring for parents.

"One mother from Ventura said, 'I see my child's future here,' " recalled Director of Development Marcia Salvary. " 'I don't need to be so hesitant, so overprotective.' "

*

About 11,000 children will go to camp this summer thanks to the $1.6 million raised last year.

The annual fundraising campaign is part of the Los Angeles Times Family Fund, a fund of the McCormick Tribune Foundation, which this year will match the first $1.1 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 latimes.com/summercamp.

To send checks, use the attached coupon. Do not send cash.

Unless requested otherwise, gifts of $50 or more will be acknowledged in The Times.

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