Saundra Bryant smiles as she pulls out an old binder that holds mementos of the summer camp sponsored by the All Peoples Christian Center in 1960. She was 8 years old that year, the minimum age for campers, and her memories of that first visit to camp are vivid.
"There was a bat in our cabin," Bryant, now executive director of All Peoples, says with a laugh. "You don't see bats in the city. We were screaming. Joe [Ide, a longtime camp employee] was like, 'What's going on in there? Lights out. Time to go to bed.' It's scary being away from home for the first time."
The sense of being in nature for the first time resonates with her each year as she works to send a group of 8-or 10-year-olds to the camp she attended. "I know it was so different than what I had experienced--to look out and really see the stars .... Although we slept in cabins, we would have one night where we would sleep outside. It was so beautiful."
The year Bryant went to camp, it cost about $16, and the Los Angeles Times Summer Camp Program donated $456 to help sponsor her and 58 other campers. This year, the Camp program will give All People's $7,500 to help send children to camp near San Bernardino, where the theme will be "Universities and Colleges." Children will be part of groups named after local schools such as Loyola Marymount, UCLA and USC. All Peoples Christian Center hopes to send 60 to 65 children to camp.
Bryant has been a part of the All Peoples Christian Center, located in Los Angeles, since she was 2. She attended day care there and later worked at the center during the summer. Even while she was attending Cal Poly Pomona and then the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, Bryant came home for the summer to work at the center. She has been executive director for the last 18 years.
With services that include food giveaways, a computer lab, tutoring, day care, a continuation high school, sports and a gang prevention program, the center serves 300 to 400 youths daily.
Things have changed since Bryant started attending the center. Although gangs were present, the violence was less intense, she says.
"What I don't recall happening [in that time] is the fear for the safety of the children, in terms of drive-by shooting, child molesters, that kind of thing where you would be afraid for a child to play outside.
"If we can get the children out for a week [to camp], out of the madness, we can show them it doesn't always have to be this way. My life's calling is to be able to give [people] second, third, fourth and fifth chances in life."
Each year since 1954, readers and employees of the Los Angeles Times have sent thousands of needy children to camp through the Times Summer Camp Program. This year, the McCormick Tribune Foundation will match the first $1.2 million raised at 50 cents on the dollar.
It costs about $150 for a child to spend a week at camp. Checks should be sent to: L.A. Times Summer Camp Campaign, File No. 53401, Los Angeles, CA 90074-3401. Credit card payments can also be made by calling (213) 237-5771. Please do not send cash. All donations are tax deductible. It is the policy of the Los Angeles Times and the camp program to maintain and promote a culture of nondiscrimination and inclusiveness.