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TIMES SUMMER CAMP CAMPAIGN

Giving a gift of childhood

May 24, 2008|Tami Abdollah | Times Staff Writer

As a seventh-grader, Eliot Dreiband was known as "the sick girl."

She had recently been diagnosed with Crohn's disease, an inflammatory bowel disorder that commonly causes symptoms such as abdominal pain, rectal bleeding, diarrhea and weight loss. She looked emaciated. And every time she missed school, rumors circulated. Oh, she had cancer, other kids said. Eliot stayed quiet.

But then Eliot's doctor told her about the Painted Turtle: a camp that catered to kids just like her.

"I was given this new chance to be someone else, right before I went to high school," said Eliot, a now-confident 18-year-old who was recently accepted to UC San Diego. "It made me realize, I didn't have to be the 'sick kid.' "

Eliot is currently a camp LIT, or leader in training, and is waiting to turn 19 so that she can be a counselor. She said many of her friends are kids she met at camp.

"Camp is the thing that changed my life," Eliot said. "I was able to be the real me. . . . I'm Eliot, I have Crohn's, and it doesn't define me."

The Painted Turtle, which is a member of Paul Newman's association of Hole in the Wall camps for seriously ill children, is one of the only multidisease camps and family care centers on the West Coast. The 173-acre camp is about 65 miles north of Los Angeles at Lake Hughes and adjoins the Angeles National Forest.

Started in 1999, it provides a "traditional camp experience" complete with a lake for boating and fishing, a high ropes course, basketball court, equestrian center, archery area, arts and crafts and a wood shop, said Michael House, chief executive of the Painted Turtle.

"A serious medical condition often robs the child of their childhood. They're in and out of the hospital so much, they're in and out of the doctor's office. . . . " House said. "We provide a camp environment where they can come and be children again, and have fun, because there's tremendous therapeutic value in having fun."

The camp offers one-week sessions for about 850 summer campers between the ages of 7 and 16; this year it begins June 14. Each session groups together about 100 children with the same medical condition: . These include liver transplant; kidney disease and transplant; muscular dystrophy; hemophilia; Crohn's and colitis; skeletal dysplasia or dwarfism; and diabetes.

A 30-member permanent staff plus dozens of volunteers, a full-time pediatrician, and volunteer nurses and doctors from L.A.-area hospitals attend to campers during their time at the Painted Turtle.

House said, "We fill our beds with the children who are most afflicted . . . who could not go to Boy Scout camp, who would not be accepted to YMCA camp, would not go to their church or synagogue camp."

This year, the Los Angeles Times Family Fund gave $9,000 to the Painted Turtle.

The fund and its annual campaign are part of the McCormick Tribune 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.

The gift is tax-deductible as permitted by law. Addresses will not be released or published.

For more information, call (800) LATIMES, Ext. 75771, or e-mail familyfund@latimes .com.

Mail donations (do not send cash) to:

Summer Camp Campaign

File 56984

Los Angeles, CA 90074-6984

Or donate now at: latimes.com/summercamp.

tami.abdollah@latimes.com

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Summer Camp Campaign

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