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SUMMER CAMP CAMPAIGN

Their wished-for camping trip becomes a reality

June 22, 2007|Amy Kaufman | Times Staff Writer

Kailey Rose and her two brothers had never been camping before, so one evening last year the siblings decided to create their own makeshift adventure. They piled blankets into a tent near their garage and hid inside, their faces lighted only by the dim glow of a lantern.

But in the scuffle of the escapade, one of the three accidentally pushed the lantern onto its side. Within seconds, the flames spread, igniting chemicals stored in the family's garage.

"They lost everything when the house burned down," said Maria Gonzalez, a volunteer coordinator at the Boys and Girls Club of Coachella Valley, where Kailey, 12, and her brothers, ages 10 and 14, often spend time after school.

To make matters worse, as the family moved its belongings into a new home, Kailey's mother suffered a severe back injury while unloading a truck.

"The doctors think that my mom might have multiple sclerosis," said Kailey quietly, trying not to cry. "And I thought that, if that happens, it'd be hard to make it through because we've gone through a lot."

The gloomy trajectory of events inspired Gonzalez and other staffers at the Coachella Club to offer Kailey and her brother Trevor, 14, the opportunity to experience the thing they'd been dreaming of before the tragic fire -- a bona fide camping trip.

So last summer, the pair traveled to the 72-acre Pathfinder Ranch Summer Camp near the San Jacinto Mountains in Idyllwild. The camp welcomes 130 Boys & Girls Club kids ages 7 to 14 and teens 15 to 17 each week, allowing participants to build confidence and self-esteem through new activities.

"There are quite a few from disadvantaged circumstances who have been through some kind of tragedy and really deserve to be at camp," said Stephanie Brazil, executive director of Pathfinder Ranch.

Kailey, who will return to the program this summer, said she plans to take full advantage of the program's eclectic offerings.

"Last year, I did all the activities that they had," she said proudly. "Extreme sports like rock climbing and archery, and I rode a horse too. I was afraid at first, but then it was just cool."

The Boys & Girls Club of Coachella Valley is one of 60 organizations receiving financial aid this year through the Los Angeles Times Summer Camp Campaign. More than 8,000 underprivileged children will go to camp this summer, thanks to $1.5 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.

amy.kaufman@latimes.com

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