Marilyn McKeever's youngest children, Anthony, 8, and Anita, 12, haven't always known the innocence of childhood. After years of drug and alcohol addiction by her and their father, she has fought to give her children a normal childhood, one where it is OK to just be kids and have fun without having to worry about Mom and Dad.
For a week this summer, they will go to Camp Max Straus in the Verdugo Mountains in Glendale to ride horses, swim and take nature walks. Operated by the Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles, the camp welcomes about 120 underserved children with emotional, behavioral or social problems.
McKeever, a single mother of four, has twice lost custody of her children. But while jailed on drug charges, she said she realized she needed to change and has been clean and sober for 10 years. However, she is disabled and unemployed, struggling to keep her family afloat in their Pacoima residence. The children's drug-addicted father has been in and out of their lives and is now in jail.
Living in a household where they either witnessed or heard about drug and alcohol abuse problems, the siblings have had trouble adjusting.
Anita had a hard time in the first years of McKeever's sobriety, worrying that she would relapse and disappear again. Anita also has a cognitive disorder where she can't express her emotions. Anthony is in therapy for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
"They suffered through my addiction," McKeever said. "We suffered through it, but we're still going strong."
In openly explaining her past to her children, McKeever hopes they learn from her mistakes.
"My kids are in therapy because I don't want them to feel the pain I did as a child," she said. "I don't want them to turn to drugs or anything to feel normal the way I did."
Still, McKeever wants her two youngest children to see that life is not always a struggle and hopes a week away at camp will help them come out of their shells.
"There's so much more to life than going to school and . . . sitting at home with good old mom," McKeever said.
The camp provides children with a great growing experience, said Jennifer Greenberg, a program specialist for Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles. "It's a place to kind of get away and be a kid again," she said.
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.
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