Ten-year-old Briza Hernandez seems like a shy, soft-spoken kid, but her 16-year-old half-sister, Nancy, warns otherwise.
"She's quiet now, but she's really not," Nancy said. "When you get to know her, she explodes everywhere. She's like a ball of energy."
Under a sunny patio next to the playground in their South-Central apartment, Briza's energy starts to filter through her tiny body as she fidgets and bounces around, letting out fits of giggles at times. Although the family of six (mother, stepfather and four daughters) struggles to get by each week with the help of food stamps, Briza is a bright, cheerful child.
She is clearly doted on by Nancy and their mother. Her mother proudly said that Briza recently won a certificate of excellence for math, and that her teachers had praised her for being a good student.
"She's still lazy," Nancy interjected teasingly, earning a playful scowl from Briza. "But she did tell me that she wants to go to college and do well in school."
The main reason for her academic motivation, Briza said, is so she could be a scuba diver in the Pacific Ocean and take care of the marine animals. Her favorite sea creature? Sharks.
"I just like sharks," Briza said with a shrug. She just loves all animals, she said, and that's what excites her most about the prospect of attending Camp Joe Ide in the San Bernardino Mountains this summer, a weeklong outing organized by All Peoples Christian Center, a nonprofit agency that provides daily after-school services for Briza, her sisters and other children in the neighborhood.
Having lived in the city her whole life, Briza longs to get a chance to interact with animals in their natural habitats. This summer, she'll finally get to experience the world that she watches on her favorite TV channels, Animal Planet and Discovery Channel.
"It's gonna be good for her to see the difference of city lights and natural lights," Nancy said. "It's important because she gets to experience nature and see how nature works. I want her to know how to care for the environment."
Nancy said that ever since she came back from her own camping trip a couple years ago, she has had a different outlook on planet Earth.
"I came back and I just wanted to pick up the trash and make a difference to the pollution here," Nancy said. "Now we recycle a lot, and we never did that before I went to camp. Hopefully Briza's going to learn to recycle too."
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 7-17 with enriching, educational and fun camp experiences.
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