When Eugene Johnson talks about going back to camp this summer, a huge smile widens across his face and he begins listing the activities he loved the most. For this 8-year-old, though, it's mainly about one thing.
"It was fun. It was cool. I'm excited to go because this year, we get to go rock climbing!" said Eugene, who went to Camp Harmony in Malibu for the first time last winter.
Though Eugene lived in a shelter with his mom and little brother for six weeks, the family now lives in permanent housing provided by A Community of Friends, an organization that supports services to previously homeless families and sends children from their organization to Camp Harmony each August.
About 300 campers, ages 7 to 11, attend Camp Harmony in Malibu, sponsored by United in Harmony, an organization that provides homeless and low-income children with enrichment opportunities year-round.
Now in its 19th year, Camp Harmony gives children a chance to spend five nights in the wilderness during summer and for a long weekend during winter.
"They get off the bus and begin their camping day," said Wendy Klappholz, executive director at United in Harmony.
Campers are given any clothing or other camping items needed upon arrival.
"A lot of our kids get off the bus and they don't have a thing with them," said Klappholz, who attends camp each year. "Every child goes home with a new duffel bag and a new sleeping bag. It's a very grass-roots effort."
The camp staff is composed of volunteers and high-school-age counselors who volunteer their time and pay their way as a donation to the camp. Activities include a hiking trip, a ropes course and a day at the beach.
"For some of them, it's the first time they've ever seen the ocean," Klappholz said.
Eugene was nervous to go to camp for the first time last winter, according to his mom, Roslee Johnson, but once he saw the bus full of kids, he was ready.
"It's really cool, especially for the ones of us coming out of a shelter," Johnson said. "It gives them a chance to have some fun and smile for a day."
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 Foundation, which matches all donations at 50 cents on the dollar. Unless requested otherwise, the Los Angeles Times Family Fund makes every effort to acknowledge in the newspaper all donations of $100 or more received by Sept. 1.
Donations will be acknowledged by mail in three to four weeks. 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/summercamp.