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Iona takes a break

July 01, 2009|Juliette Funes

She may be the middle child, but Iona Lincoln, a shy 11-year-old, has always put others before herself by taking on the role of the big sister, even to Natalie, her 13-year-old sister who is mildly handicapped.

"Some people don't understand what it's like to have a sister that's special ed, and I think that there's something special about them," Iona said. As her sister's keeper, Iona defends Natalie from bullies and helps her tie her shoes, get dressed and write.

"It has made her more responsible, and others don't have to do half the stuff Iona does," her mother, Tamara, said. "Iona is like the older sister. She needs a break too."

Helping Natalie and living in a Long Beach neighborhood battling gangs, drugs and other urban ills hasn't given Iona the chance to build relationships with others or find her own identity, voice and independence, Tamara said.

However, she has learned to step out of her comfort zone and nurture her independence thanks to her experiences the last two summers at Camp Oaks in Big Bear, an event run by the YMCA of Greater Long Beach.

"When she comes back from there it seems to open her up a little more than before," Tamara said. "Being around animals and things she would normally not see on a daily basis makes her more vocal about things."

Iona is excited to return this summer to camp, where 250 to 300 kids ages 8 to 13 will spend a week participating in nature activities and team-building events.

"It's really fun and really exciting once you go again and see what's going to happen next," Iona said, adding that she is most looking forward to the solo hike, where she can look for flowers and overcome the fear of being alone, she said.

"When she goes to camp she can be who she really wants to be," Tamara said.

Living in the city doesn't offer kids the opportunity to even see stars, said Sue Gevedon, the associate executive director of the YMCA of Greater Long Beach downtown community branch. The camp gives them "the chance to do activities such as horseback riding, archery, canoeing, campfires and just experience the family environment of 300 people eating meals together."

With $1.8 million raised last year by the Los Angeles Times Summer Camp Campaign, approximately 8,000 children will go to camp in Southern California this summer.

The Summer Camp Campaign is part of the Los Angeles Times Family Fund, a McCormick Foundation fund, which matches all donations at 50 cents on the dollar.

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