Described as a "wild" child by neighbors when he lived at a relative's home with little supervision, Chris often wandered the streets in the middle of night with his brother. Sometimes, he would knock on doors hoping for an invitation to dinner. Taking a chance on strangers seemed better than enduring the neglect, and the physical and emotional abuse, that he and his brother lived with inside their temporary home.
Chris, 10, was born with drugs in his system and was removed from his parents while they tried to sober up and prove that they could care for their children. After several of those attempts failed, the youngsters were placed in foster homes, then with relatives.
When a neighbor complained to authorities about the abuse and neglect the children were suffering, they were taken away and returned to foster homes.
But Chris never stayed in a foster home for long. He had a hard time controlling his behavior and emotions, and he was moved from foster family to foster family, unlike his younger brother, who is still in foster care.
Chris found an advocate in the 113-year-old Five Acres organization in Altadena, a child abuse and neglect prevention, treatment and education center that serves about 2,000 children yearly. After he was placed in Five Acres' orphanage by children's services a year ago, Diane Beekman, director of adjunctive therapy, noticed a change in Chris. "He is getting along with children and adults," she says. She adds that Chris has spent his "whole life [moving from] place to place to place" and that that made him angry and hurt, which caused the behavioral problems. At Five Acres, he gets care, support and structure, which helps ease his temper and makes him less withdrawn.
Five Acres' programs are aimed at giving abused or neglected children hope and filling them with self-worth. Its mission is to help children become caring and productive adults by building on their strengths and those of their families and communities.
Chris has made dramatic improvements in his ability to talk about what is bothering him instead of isolating himself from those who are trying to help, says a Five Acres staffer. "Chris is a child who, despite the adversity in his life, never seems to give up completely."
This summer, with the help of Five Acres and the Los Angeles Times Summer Camp Program, Chris will experience his first trip to Camp Max Strauss in Foothills. The camp program will donate $6,500 to Five Acres this year to help kids such as Chris to explore nature. "[Many children] have not seen a stream, an open field," says Five Acres' director of development, Cathleen Clement. "Part of healthy human development is exploring nature."
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 an average of $150 for a child to spend a week at summer camp. Checks should be sent to: L.A. Times Summer Camp Campaign, File No. 53401, L.A., 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.