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SUMMER CAMP CAMPAIGN

Taylor is finally getting some structure

His father was killed in a car crash and his mother spiraled back into drug use. Camp would give the 10-year-old a respite from the harsh city.

July 22, 2009|Juliette Funes

Pam Bonomo likens her nephew, Taylor, to Mowgli from "The Jungle Book." He's a 10-year-old boy who has practically raised himself, developed few manners and has little in the way of social skills.

"In some ways, he's a lot older than 10, and in some ways he's a lot younger than 6," she said.

Mowgli spent much of his childhood learning about jungle life, and Taylor learned the harsh realities that a childhood in the city can sometimes bring. With his parents heavily into drugs, he had little structure or stability, often living on the streets and in motels.

Bonomo took custody of Taylor for 18 months while his parents achieved sobriety. But just as things began looking up, Taylor and his father were in a car accident. His father was killed and his mother spiraled back into her drug habit.

He was removed from her custody and has been living with Bonomo in Hacienda Heights for the last 15 months.

"We've always had a bond, and I never stayed out of his life," she said.

Still believing that the car accident was his fault because he didn't keep his father awake as they drove in the wee morning hours, and desperate to reunite with his mother, Taylor had difficulty transitioning into his new life. Plus, his new environment was set with things he -- much like his counterpart Mowgli -- wasn't accustomed to: rules and discipline.

"He wasn't used to parental input," Bonomo said. "There were no consequences. With me, I'm on top of him."

In raising Taylor, Bonomo has tried to teach him good manners and behavior. For the last eight months he has been going to the San Gabriel Valley YMCA, where he has grown up and developed his independence.

"Before he would walk with his head down and not talk to anyone," Bonomo said. "Now he talks to everybody and engages in conversation."

For a week this summer, Taylor will have the chance to escape the city and enjoy nature for the first time when he goes to Camp Elk in Wrightwood. About 100 kids ages 7 to 13 will go swimming and canoeing and perform skits.

"A lot of these kids never get that experience," camp director Ernie Salcido said. "I get a lot of kids who have never been to camp, or out of their house. But they bond with kids of different backgrounds, and it gives them a great chance to see outside their environment."

With $1.8 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 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.

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 familyfund@latimes.com.

Mail donations using the attached form (do not send cash), donate by phone at (800) 518-3975 or donate online now at latimes.com/donate.

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juliette.funes@latimes.com

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