The two petite, pretty sisters sat facing each other at their Bellflower apartment, both happily sucking on fruity ice treats.
They had just returned from their first trip to Camp Gilmore, a five-day residential summer camp in the Santa Monica Mountains operated by the Salvation Army, and in between licks of their mid-day snack, they eagerly rehashed all the fun they had.
Jocelyn, 10, said she loved the campfires the most because of the entertaining songs and plays, while Evelyn, 9, repeatedly mentioned the Slip 'N Slide, where she got to fly across the tube on her belly.
Jocelyn and Evelyn are two of Anna Dedios' four children; they also have a 12-year-old brother, Joshua, and a 5-year-old sister, Iris. Raising them has been a struggle for Dedios after the death of her mother, legal battles with her ex-husband and the threat of losing her home because of debt.
When a neighbor recommended Helpline Youth Counseling, a nonprofit youth and family service organization in Southeast Los Angeles County, Dedios called immediately. She then learned about Camp Gilmore. Because most of the camp fee is funded by the Los Angeles Times Summer Camp Campaign, Dedios was able to send Jocelyn and Evelyn.
"It's something I never got to do as a child, so I wanted to give them that [camping] experience," their mother said. "I was excited but I was also kind of sad, because I was so used to being with them all the time, and now they were going to be all alone for five days and sleeping on their own. I was worried because they're still my babies; I still haven't cut the umbilical cord."
Both Jocelyn and Evelyn said they too missed their mother, and Evelyn admitted to crying at camp whenever she thought of home. When they came back, Dedios said, both daughters flew into her arms.
"They are sweeter now," Dedios said. "They hug me all the time."
Dedios said she's already seen a huge difference in the girls, especially Evelyn, who used to throw tantrums. In fact, the biggest lesson they learned at Camp Gilmore, the sisters said, was about showing respect.
Evelyn got to demonstrate that lesson to her mother recently when she asked if she could stay longer at her aunt's house, and Dedios said no. Dedios held her breath, waiting for Evelyn to erupt into anger, but instead the little girl replied calmly, "It's OK, Mom. I understand."
"She wasn't really like that [before]," Dedios said. "But I guess the time that she was away from me, she realized how much I mean to her."
Through the generosity of Times readers, along with a match by the McCormick Foundation, more than $1.6 million was granted last year by the Los Angeles Times Summer Camp Campaign.
The Summer Camp Campaign, part of the Los Angeles Times Family Fund, a McCormick Foundation Fund, supports programs that provide thousands of Southern California's at-risk children ages 7 to 17 with enriching, educational and fun camp experiences.
Donations are tax-deductible as permitted by law and matched at 50 cents on the dollar. Donor information is not traded or published without permission. Donate online at latimes.com/donate or by calling (800) 518-3975. All gifts will receive a written acknowledgment.