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TIMES SUMMER CAMP CAMPAIGN

Kids, crops grow here

At Camp Stevens' site in the mountains, youths cultivate a respect for nature as they harvest vegetables from an organic garden.

August 29, 2008|Nicky Loomis | Times Staff Writer

Kaira Yates knows the exact moment she looks forward to when she heads to camp each summer: It's when she gets off the bus, takes a big breath of fresh air and lets the sights sink in.

"There are a lot of trees and flowers, and every once in a while, you'll see a deer," said Kaira, 13, who returned to Camp Stevens, located in the Cuyamaca Mountains near San Diego, for a fourth year this summer.

From the first time she stepped off that bus, Kaira, who lives in Los Angeles with her parents and two older sisters, said she began to change as a person.

"I think that I've grown to respect nature more," Kaira said. "It's a respectful place."

About 90 children, ages 8 to 16, spend a week at Camp Stevens, which is run by the Episcopal Church in the dioceses of Los Angeles and San Diego.

Nearly 40% of the campers there come from low-income backgrounds.

Campers stay in open-air cabins and also get the chance to sleep under the stars during an overnight hike.

Activities include swimming, archery and other sports, and they also get to work in an organic garden where they harvest vegetables, including corn and carrots.

The kids take turns preparing meals with the vegetables to share with the rest of the campers, as though they are the hosts.

"We try and relate a lot of things to typical things in life," explained camp director John Horton.

"We're helping the kids to learn to be members of a small, caring community."

For Kaira, the group activities helped her to make friends with kids outside her cabin as well as some of the counselors.

"The counselors were nice and they cared for you -- you could trust them," she said.

On the last day of camp this year, everyone headed to a designated outdoor spot to talk about their experiences during the week.

"I think it's a very emotional moment because people are sad to leave," Kaira said.

Thanks to the $1.7 million raised last year by the Los Angeles Times Summer Camp Campaign, about 8,000 children will be able to 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 familyfund @latimes.com.

You can mail donations using the form below (do not send cash) or donate online at latimes.com/donate.

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nicole.loomis@latimes.com

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