He's earning his rags

A beautiful meadow against a mountainous terrain, campfires under the star-encrusted sky, mountain biking with new friends and exploring bat caves are the things that have made Daniel White, 13, return to Camp Whittle in Big Bear for the last four summers.

He was one of 123 kids from the North Valley Family YMCA branch of YMCA of Metropolitan Los Angeles to spend a week at the campsite in June.

"We get to do exciting things away from home," Daniel said. "It teaches us to kind of take care of ourselves away from our parents."

The teen is in the process of becoming a Ragger through a YMCA program for youths searching for spiritual and personal growth, in which they receive symbolic colored rags representing future goals.

"Every year you always want to stay more," he said. "Some people want to go home and see their [family]. But I'm one of those that every year I want to stay longer."

Although his grandmother, Nancy Platt, misses him when he's gone, she's glad Daniel can have his own adventure.

"I think it's an awesome experience for him," Platt said. "With everything that's going on in his life, it's a good escape for him."

Daniel's parents have been divorced and out of his life for almost four years. The teen and his sister, Megan, have been living with their grandparents, one of whom has a mild form of pancreatic cancer.

Their home was one of almost 500 in the Oakridge Mobile Home Park that was left in ruins by the Sayre fire in Sylmar last November. They found a small apartment in January. However, adjusting to their new home life is difficult.

"We're used to having a home. We're not used to living in an apartment," Platt said. "We don't have that much right now anyway. We're still really rebuilding and hopefully can get back into a home."

Still, Daniel is eager to get back to camp to complete the Rag program, become a counselor in training and work his way up to director, he said.

"YMCA camping challenges kids to try things they've never done before," said Jane Stanton, the executive director of North Valley Family YMCA. "They come back from success at camp ready to succeed at home and school."

With $1.8 million raised last year by the Los Angeles Times Summer Camp Campaign, approximately 8,000 children will go to camp in Southern California this summer.

The Summer Camp Campaign is part of the Los Angeles Times Family Fund, a McCormick Foundation fund, which matches all donations at 50 cents on the dollar.

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