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A training counselor helps out a youngster

August 25, 2008|Nicky Loomis | Times Staff Writer

This summer at camp, Kayla Barker got to enjoy her favorite activities -- stargazing and the ropes course -- while becoming more than just a camper. Picked as a "Leader in Training" at the YMCA's Camp Oakes, Kayla, 15, spent the week working with younger children as she tested the waters as a counselor-to-be.

"It was so interactive," Kayla said. "We had meetings and mingled with each other."

The key to being a good counselor, says Kayla, is an open personality.

"I usually talk to anybody and everybody," said Kayla, who lives in Riverside with her grandmother, Pat Holl, and her younger brothers, Dylan, 10, and Danny, 13. "I've always been that way."

About 325 kids, ages 8 to 13, spend a week at YMCA's Camp Oakes, on 230 acres of the San Bernardino Mountains near Big Bear Lake. Campers get to swim and horseback ride in a full ranch program with more than 40 horses.

The core values of the camp -- caring, respect, honesty and responsibility -- are instilled during the activities, said Jeff Darling, executive camp director, and the youngsters quickly form bonds with one another.

"It's amazing what is being shared by these kids by days five, six and seven," Darling said. "It creates this environment where there is a comfort level like no other. They're still kids, but they choose to set that aside for a week to model character traits."

One of Kayla's proudest achievements was connecting to one of the younger campers who kept bullying other kids during the week.

"There was this little boy that would say the meanest things," she recalled. Kayla talked to him about having more patience with others.

"He called me the other day saying, 'I never say that anymore,' " she said. "I taught him something."

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.

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