Though camp is officially over, Sydni Swayzer still remembers everything about it, down to her favorite meals (ravioli and corn dogs), the music she listened to (Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers) and, most important, the smells of nature.
"Some of the trees smell like butterscotch -- they smell really good," said Sydni, 8, who, while at camp a few weeks ago, learned how trees get energy from the sun and produce oxygen.
The experience was extra memorable for Sydni since her family was previously homeless and she had never been away from her mom. Sydni now lives in transitional housing with her parents and three younger siblings in Westminster.
"She was really excited when she got back," said her mom, Teresa Cox, who works in telemarketing. "She gained her independence."
The family found out about summer camp through American Family Housing, an Orange County organization that provides homeless families housing, counseling and education.
Forty kids from American Family Housing joined about 100 campers, ages 7 to 12, at YMCA's in the San Bernardino mountains.
"They get a chance to blend in and be normal," said Tina Starr, who initiated the camp program for American Family Housing. "They get a chance to be kids and just have fun."
The camp experience offers children a bigger sense of community and an opportunity to gain independence.
"They become more secure and learn that it's OK to accept new friends and activities," Starr said. "Building their trust is a big deal."
Campers participate in such activities as arts and crafts, swimming, rock climbing and canoeing. Team-building activities include a high- and low-ropes course, where Sydni remembers having a beautiful view of the whole camp as she would swing from rope to rope, with the safety of a harness and a helmet.
"We go up a long log, then we walk across the log. Then we hold on to this rope and try to jump and touch this little bobber in the middle. It was really, really high."
On the last day, she got up the courage to participate in the "polar bear swim," where she plunged into an icy pool at 6 a.m., part of a camp tradition. Once in the water, she said it wasn't too bad.
Thanks to the $1.7 million raised last year by the Los Angeles Times Summer Camp Campaign, about 8,000 children will go to camp in Southern California this summer.
The Los Angeles Times Family Fund is a fund of the McCormick Foundation, which matches all donations at 50 cents on the dollar.
Donations are tax deductible as permitted by law. Addresses will not be released or published. For more information, call (800) LA TIMES, Ext. 75771, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mail donations using the form below (do not send cash) or donate online now at latimes.com/donate.