Luis Guerra has just finished constructing a castle for his plastic shark in the sandbox at the Hope Street Family Center playground. As he wipes the sand from his fingers, a bouncy girl about his own small size inadvertently destroys his latest creation. Seven-year-old Luis remains unflustered and determined. "I'll have to build it again, again and again," he says.
The same spirit of resilience pervades his family, helping them to cope with struggles including life in a downtown L.A. homeless shelter for the last year and a half.
This summer, Luis will enjoy a playground larger than a sandbox. First he'll travel with his father to Arrowhead for a weekend at Rowdy Ridge Gang Camp. He'll return for a week later in the summer with his sister and mother. The family will experience hiking, swimming, archery and rock climbing, and Luis hopes to see "bears, eagles and worms."
Most important, Luis can spend time with his parents in a peaceful, supportive setting where family members can renew their love for one another. Luis' mother, Aura Guzman, appreciates the chance to share meaningful time with her children. "What I most look forward to is looking at the stars and the moon, and having conversations with my kids," she says.
Last year, Rowdy Ridge served 200 families. The camp is run by the Scott Newman Center, which sponsors educational programs geared toward preventing substance abuse. At Rowdy Ridge, parents can enjoy time with their kids without the distraction of everyday tasks and issues, says Ruben Barajas, the center's executive director. "The family can just be a family, in the most peaceful environment imaginable," he says.
Guzman found out about the camp through Hope Street Family Center, which applied for the family on their behalf. The center offers a comprehensive range of support services for low-income families in downtown L.A., including counseling, education and daycare. One service helped the family to secure an apartment, ending their bout with homelessness. They moved in just this week, but Luis already has his bags packed to leave again. This time he won't head to the streets but to camp.
With $1.6 million raised last year by the Los Angeles Times Summer Camp Campaign, approximately 6,500 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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