Imagine a gurgling creek flanked by deer bending their necks to drink from its fresh waters. A dark sky illuminated by bright stars. Acres of lush plains, ideal for galloping across on horseback. The thrill of rappelling down the side of a canyon wall. All of these experiences await Raphael Smith when he attends Camp Paintrock in Wyoming this summer. They will be perfect for this 13-year-old Culver City resident who has an extraordinary appetite for challenging experiences, learning and success.
Camp Paintrock is more than a summer getaway. It forms one element of C5LA, the local branch of the C5 Youth Foundation. C5LA's mission is to inspire high-potential youth from risk-filled environments to pursue personal success, especially through college. The program offers intensive, multifaceted leadership training that extends from eighth grade to high school graduation in year-round programs.
The selection process to attend is rigorous and competitive; typically 600 to 800 students apply for the 72 spots. One application requirement was to write an essay about a difficult experience. Raphael wrote about the death of his mother five years ago. Then, he demonstrated his communication skills in an interview process. Teacher recommendation letters praised Raphael's positive attitude and determination in the face of adversity.
After the death of his mother, Raphael bounced among various homes and schools, finally establishing himself at Emerson Middle School in Los Angeles for the eighth grade. There, he proved his skills on the football field and in a 10th-grade-level math class. His success led one teacher to write, "With the right financial support and direction, the sky's the limit for Raphael Smith."
Camp Paintrock will help him take off. In addition to emphasizing leadership skills, it capitalizes on its location, a working cattle ranch, to offer lessons in geology, botany, livestock management and wildlife appreciation. Raphael is prepared. He says that "the camp staff warned me that we're going to get dirty a lot and get mud in our hair."
Raphael hopes C5LA will help him to complete high school and attend a well-regarded college like UCLA. He'd ultimately like a career as a sports medicine physician.
According to Raphael's current caretaker, Tina Aust, camp will help Raphael to achieve these dreams. "He's had a lot of barriers but has broken through many of them," Aust says. "He is an awesome kid who, with a little help, will determine his own path."
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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