Not long ago, Alex Martinez was conversant only in Nahuatl, the ancient Aztec language spoken at home and carried by his father from Mexico to his new life in the United States. With the help of the All Peoples Christian Center, Alex quickly mastered English and learned some Spanish. With its emphasis on academics, the nonsectarian center helped him to earn top grades in school, and awarded him a medal for most improved student.
Alex understands the importance of his studies. But this summer he'll enjoy a week free of the responsibilities of home and classes at Camp Joe Ide in the San Bernardino Mountains. Far from relaxing, the 9-year-old will work just as hard at running around and having fun.
Hard work and responsibility run in Alex's family. His father, Carlos Martinez, left his Mexican town at age 10 to help his mother and five siblings by finding work in Mexico City. At age 14 he recognized the better opportunities in the United States and moved to California. He now supports himself and three children by working at a garment factory. Carlos said he would prefer to move back to Mexico, but he wants the best opportunities for his children.
One such opportunity is the chance to expand Alex's horizons through summer camp. Envisioning the camp setting in the San Bernardino Mountains, Alex imagines "lots of trees, lots of grass and insects." In fact, Alex will experience a diverse chaparral ecosystem of pine trees, wildflowers, colorful birds and big-eared wood rats. Activities such as hiking, swimming, sports and archery will help him explore the new environment.
Julia Huerta, youth coordinator at All Peoples Christian Center, says that children return home from camp with newfound independence, maturity and confidence. Sometimes she attends the camp herself and on the last night must contend with choruses of kids begging to stay longer. But there's one question from the kids that she doesn't mind. She recalls, "One night, we all slept outside. The kids asked if they could touch the stars because they looked so close."
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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