Paola Cabrera had never been in a real swimming pool before going to Camp Joe Ide in Mentone this summer. Inflatable backyard pools, yes, but a big concrete pool, never.
"I tried to open my eyes under the water," the reserved, quiet 12-year-old recalled. "It was refreshing. It was cool."
Paola attended a week of camp in early July, escaping part of this summer's intense heat wave in Los Angeles. The cool breezes of the San Bernardino Mountains were a revelation to her.
At camp, she discovered archery and enjoyed arts and crafts. She painted a wooden snake and built a picture frame that now holds a photograph of Paola and her cabin-mates.
"I kept it as a memory of camp," said Paola, who had never before been outside Los Angeles, except for time spent in Mexico as a young child.
Paola had wanted to go to camp since her younger sister, Virgen, 10, went last year through the All Peoples Christian Center near 20th and San Pedro streets in downtown Los Angeles. The sisters, along with two other siblings, go daily to the center after school and during the summer, where they play games, do homework and use the computer lab.
One block from the center, the family shares a crowded two-bedroom house -- where the four siblings sleep in one room and the parents in another. Paola's mother and father work low-income jobs in the garment industry.
The entire family drove up to Mentone for a surprise visit to see Paola while she was at camp. "As soon as she saw them, she started crying," said Norma Roman, a camp counselor who works at All Peoples. "It was very touching."
Reyna Flores, Paola's mother, said through a translator that she was happy her daughter got a chance to go to camp, "so she could have a new experience of being alone, and for her to see somewhere new."
Flores added, "She came back very excited." At that, Paola smiled, looking down shyly and brushing aside her waist-length black hair.
"It was fun," Paola said. "And I didn't have to go to school."
About 10,000 underprivileged children will go to camp this summer, thanks to $1.6 million raised last year.
The annual fundraising campaign is part of the Los Angeles Times Family 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 donations by credit card, go to 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.