SOUTH LOS ANGELES : South L.A. Youth Get Northern Exposure

Get educated: Travel.

The opportunity to experience life outside of South Los Angeles was given last week to 40 lower-income area youngsters, who got a taste of life in Northern California for three days.

"California is large," said Darwin Laidley, 12, from a telephone at Monterey's Fisherman's Wharf. "I've never seen these beautiful things before. There's more trees out here."

The trip was sponsored by the Los Angeles Urban League through a donation from the private sector. The 9- to 12-year-olds left from the Urban League's headquarters in the Crenshaw District Tuesday morning, traveling up the coast with stops in Santa Barbara at Kids World and in Carmel for dinner. After two days of checking out the sites at Monterey Bay, including a visit to the city's aquarium, the travelers returned Thursday.

John Mack, president of the Los Angeles Urban League, said an important criteria in selecting the youngsters was that their parents couldn't afford a trip of this nature. "We also wanted to make sure and recognize that they were not youngsters in the streets making trouble," he said. "Travel and exposure of this type is only secondary to formal education."

The main source of funding for the tour was provided by Noel Irwin-Hentschel, chairwoman of AmericanTours International, through the Noel Foundation, which she created last year. The foundation is a seven-year commitment to foot the cost of taking 40 youths from South and East Los Angeles to destinations throughout the United States.

"I asked (Mack) what needed to be done in the community to help make a change," said Irwin-Hentschel. "He said, 'Children have nothing to look forward to.' So I asked if they've ever been outside of their area."

Irwin-Hentschel, who grew up in South-Central and has traveled extensively, said Monterey was this year's destination because of its historic significance as the state's first capital and because of the area's natural beauty.

"It's a tremendous eye-opener for those youth, for them to see what there is in life," Mack said.

"It's the first time that I'm away from home . . . and I'm not scared," said Roxana Luevano, a 10-year-old student at San Miguel Catholic School in Watts. "I learned that some people are nice."

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