When Jose Garcia got back from his first summer at camp last year, he was already getting excited for the next year. Now, with less than three weeks to go, the countdown has begun.
"I'm waiting for it," says Jose, 13. "It was really fun. It was like the best time I've had."
Jose, who lives in Santa Ana with his parents and two siblings, will be returning as a youth ambassador, a title he earned last year for being a leader during camp. He is one of five ambassadors who will welcome campers and help them feel more comfortable upon arrival.
On June 24, about 100 middle schoolers from Orange County will pack their overnight bags and head to Barton Flats in San Bernardino National Forest for a week at camp, sponsored by Camp Fire USA Orange County Council, which provides youth education enrichment and leadership programming.
Understanding that being away from home can be scary at first, Jose has some advice for new campers.
"Don't be shy; be open. Don't be scared meeting new people," he says, making clear that the jitters quickly pass. "You get the hang of it, and you meet everybody."
Now in its fourth year, the camp gives low-income and at-risk children a chance to get out of their day-to-day environments, said Michelle Pelliccino, associate director of the council's after-school programming.
The camp encourages esteem-building activities meant to help campers establish new friendships.
"Campers grow and connect with individuals they might never have built the relationship with," said Pelliccino, who goes along to camp.
Other camp activities include a low-ropes course, archery and canoeing.
Though Jose says he has great memories of canoeing on Jenks Lake with his cabin members last year, it's the nightly campfires that remain his favorite.
"We sing songs, and they tell us stories," Jose says. "I like to sing."
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 annual campaign is part of the Los Angeles Times Family Fund, a fund of the McCormick Tribune Foundation, which matches all donations at 50 cents on the dollar. Unless requested otherwise, The Times fund makes every effort to acknowledge in the newspaper donations of $100 or more received by Sept. 1.
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