When Lorena Mendez talks about going to family camp with her three children for the first time, she still remembers how nervous she was to stay in a different cabin from her kids -- even though they were just a short walk away.
At Rowdy Ridge Gang Camp, mothers and children previously affected by domestic violence or substance abuse problems split up into cabins according to their age group in order to help build new relationships.
"The first year, I was really unsure because I had never been away from my children, in particular during the night," Mendez said. "After I saw how they took care of them, I was really comfortable."
Mendez, who cleans houses for a living and lives in downtown Los Angeles with her husband, will head back to camp in July with her daughter and two sons for a fourth year.
About 550 mothers, ages 18 to 40, and children, ages 2 to 17, attend Rowdy Ridge Gang Camp for a five-day session, sponsored by the Scott Newman Center, an organization that provides education for substance abuse prevention.
Located in the San Gabriel Mountains, the camp offers a wide range of relationship-building activities such as hiking and canoeing.
Campers also find respite in "cabin time" before bed, in which moms and children can talk freely with other cabin members.
"Nothing we do is supposed to look and feel like psychotherapy," said Ruben Barajas, executive director of the Scott Newman Center. It becomes a therapeutic experience, though, anyway. "Because the mind is so quiet [at camp], sometimes things will come up to the surface," he explained.
For Mendez's 12-year-old daughter, Cinthia Chicas, the best -- and worst -- part of camp is making new friends.
"It's hard to say goodbye because everyone starts crying," said Cinthia, who hopes to become a counselor-in-training when she turns 18. "I know it's only five days, but you get so close -- and the next year it's the same thing!"
The Los Angeles Times Summer Camp Campaign gave the Scott Newman Center $45,000 last year.
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 donations of $100 or more received by Sept. 1 in the newspaper.
All 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.