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Motivated teen gets break from hectic life

June 18, 2004|Michael Ordona | Times Staff Writer

Daysi Garcia is campaigning again.

Although the 13-year-old powerhouse is already her school's spirit director, and there's no other office to vie for right now, she's paving the way for her run at the presidency. Of the United States.

"Achieve the unachievable," she says boldly, and her boundless energy makes you think she might do just that.

Daysi lives in a two-bedroom apartment with her parents, grandmother and two younger siblings in Pico-Union, a neighborhood notorious for robberies and vandalism. Her parents are strict about not allowing her outside alone. Much of her time is spent with her grandfather, who is gravely ill with advanced diabetes and is on dialysis.

The seventh-grader has collected an impressive array of awards and scholarships for academics, athletics and music, including a Presidential Award for Academic Achievement. However, her scholarship to attend the local Catholic school has expired, and the family is unsure where Daysi will be next semester because they can't afford private school tuition.

"I learned today that we got fired," says Daysi's mother, Laura Ortiz, who worked at a local school where budget cuts forced the laying off of nine workers.

For a while, anyway, Daysi won't have to worry about any of that. She is going to Camp Mt. Crags for a second time courtesy of the Los Angeles Times Summer Camp Campaign.

"They're really challenged at these camps," said Heather Ames, administrative and personnel manager of Pico-Union's Salvation Army Red Shield Youth and Community Center. "A lot of times, it's the only time they get to venture out of their own little community. It helps their self-esteem, helps them to know there's other stuff out there."

"[I remember] everything about camp," Daysi said, her mouth opening as wide as a Muppet's as she raved about the camp's sporting opportunities, including archery. "You can breathe clean air there.... And the food! The waffles are even better than Eggos!"

Although this whirling dervish seems to be everywhere at once -- playing basketball or football, dancing, tutoring fifth-graders in reading or going on distance runs with her family -- her focus remains fixed on the glittering prize.

"I want to be the first Hispanic woman president," she declares, her huge eyes growing even larger behind her absently cocked glasses. She says her priority when she's in office will be the cities.

"I know that all these kids -- they gave up already. 'You think they care about us in the White House? They're drinking their champagne.'

"You can't overlook the cities. I think they could give a couple of dollars to fix the freeways and the potholes."

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.

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