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Girl needs to get 'out of the chaos'

Her mother's incarcerated and her siblings are scattered, but this 10-year-old smiles through the turmoil in her life.

June 21, 2004|Michael Ordona | Times Staff Writer

The neighborhood is remarkably clean, with a notable lack of graffiti and the occasional gardener trimming hedges, although there are bars on almost every window. And then there's the innocuous-looking apartment building painted peach, with official signs in the windows declaring the property off-limits to the public.

Until recently, 10-year-old Iquilia lived here with her mother and seven siblings, ranging from age 6 to 19. About three weeks after her mother started serving a sentence for drug- and weapons-trafficking out of the family's apartment, a young man was shot to death in the unit behind theirs while the children were home. The complex has since been condemned.

Lenzie Huffmon, director of programs for teens at the J.C. Wallace Petrolane Boys &Girls Club of Long Beach, says: "They live in a very violent neighborhood. Drive-bys, gang fights, gang meetings."

Iquilia and her youngest siblings now reside in a cramped, three-bedroom home with their elderly grandparents, not far from the condemned building. The older children are mostly fending for themselves. The locals call the area the East Side although it's in the center of town. Its beautifully groomed park is a well-known hangout for the Insane Crips, one of California's most notorious gangs.

But Iquilia's beaming smile never leaves her face. She's excited about the next day's double-Dutch jump rope competition. According to Lauren Arant, the Petrolane Boys & Girls Club's branch director, the girl excels academically, dances and shows a talent for arts and crafts.

Arant describes her as "helpful, respectful and a pleasure to have at the club.... She may be the first of her siblings to go to college."

Iquilia expends a lot of effort at the club trying to keep her boisterous younger sister in line, but when people tease her sister about scars she got from a cooking accident, Iquilia steps up to make them stop.

Once, Iquilia painted a picture of her mother, smiling and wearing a bright pink dress. When her mom got a look at it, she said only, "Ah, so pink," Iquilia says.

Iquilia is excited to have her first camping experience this summer, courtesy of the Los Angeles Times Summer Camp Campaign, although she doesn't know much about what's in store.

"I know we'll go hiking," she says. "And I'm going to be with other kids."

"She needs to get out and see other things than Long Beach," Huffmon says, "because she really doesn't go anywhere. I think for her to experience different people and a different atmosphere would be good for her. Get out of the chaos."

Iquilia also painted a self-portrait a few years ago. In the picture, she's wearing pajamas because she likes to sleep. And she's smiling.

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

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