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This is what friends are for

July 10, 2006|Melissa Pamer | Times Staff Writer

Quiani Lee was 8 when her Uncle B.J. was killed when he fell off the roof of his home.

The two had been very close. She saw him almost every day, and called him her uncle even though he wasn't a blood relative. They went to movies together and hung out at family barbecues. Yet Quiani didn't react when she found out B.J. was dead. She didn't cry and she wouldn't talk about it.

"For some reason, it didn't click to her that she wasn't going to see him again," says Shannon Lee, Quiani's mom.

That summer, the reality of the loss finally hit Quiani. It was her first time at Jay Nolan Camp in Wrightwood. During the week's big event, the evening dance, Quiani and her camp friends were having a ball. Then a new tune came on. It was B.J.'s favorite song.

Quiani broke down, crying hysterically.

"They didn't know what was wrong with me," says Quiani, now 12. "I explained it to one of my friends. She said, 'It's going to be OK.' "

Since then, Quiani's friends have been the force that draws her back to camp every year. When another uncle -- her step-father's brother, Wallace -- died of heart failure two years ago, her camp friends supported her. "They help you when you have something wrong," she says. "When you're sad, they'll make you feel better."

With her Aunt Kim Henry, a Jay Nolan employee, Quiani usually gets to camp early to help set up and greet campers. "We're just sitting there waiting," Quiani says. "And when you see your first friend's face, you just get up and run and jump and hug them."

Sitting on the lawn at Northridge Middle School, where she will enter eighth grade next year, Quiani displays her convivial nature as she repeatedly waves and calls to passersby.

Since her family moved to Lancaster in the fall, Quiani has commuted to Northridge every day -- getting up at 4 a.m. to make the long trip. But she says it's worth it so that she can stay with her friends at school.

This summer will be Quiani's fifth year at camp. She hopes to become a counselor in training when she turns 16.

Every year she looks forward to playing football when the girls' cabins compete against the boys'. Shannon Lee says Quiani comes back from camp filled with stories, often about the rituals of cabin rivalry.

About 10,000 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

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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