A weekend of real summer at Camp Wesson

Although many children are preparing to go back to school next week, 70 disadvantaged youths are being treated to a healthy dose of summer fun at a Griffith Park camp this weekend that offers first-time experiences such as archery and camping.

The three days at Camp Wesson are the highlight of Adrian Guzman's summer, he said.

"It's a lot of fun," said Adrian, a seventh-grader at Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. Middle School in Los Angeles. "I don't get to do things like this at home."

In its third year, the camp sponsored by Los Angeles Councilman Herb J. Wesson Jr. serves 8- to 12-year-old mainly African American and Latino boys and girls from Mid-City and South Los Angeles.

Adrian recounts with enthusiasm the activities he's participated in over the years: deep-sea fishing, swimming, even sleeping in a cabin.

Such experiences are designed to "be a totally new experience for these kids," Wesson said. "We want to get them out of their day-to-day environment and into the fresh air, where they can make new friends and learn to relate to others from different races and backgrounds."

Although temperatures were high and smoky air from wildfires could be seen from the camp, Wesson said he had no plans to cancel because the children would be housed in air-conditioned cabins and would have ample swimming time to stay cool.

"For some of these guys, this is the only vacation they have," Wesson said as he kept a watchful eye on campers in the pool. "But this is also a respite for parents who never get the chance to spend time alone."

Camp Wesson is part of Project SAVE, a gang intervention initiative that offers an array of recreational activities typically unavailable to low-income children.

Keith Parker, a case manager for Project SAVE, said that although the camp lasts only three days, it offers a much-needed change of scenery for the children.

"There are no gunshots, there are no helicopters, there is none of the fighting," Parker said. "They can be kids. They don't have to look over their shoulders. It gives them hope."

Parker said the campers are often the younger siblings of the teenagers he tries to get out of gang life.

He said he enjoys being able to give the children an alternative view of the city, away from gang violence or broken homes.

Each child is given everything needed for the weekend, including clothes and swimsuits, so no one will be left out if parents can't afford such things.

Wesson said community donations and fundraising paid the cost of the entire trip, which he estimated at $40,000 to $45,000.

Denis Franco, an 11-year-old from Koreatown, said he decided to take a chance on going to the camp last year when one of his mother's clients offered to sign him up.

It was his first time at a summer camp, and he liked it so much that he wanted to go back.

"I love the nature. It's spiritual," Denis said. "I love plants, but it's just too difficult to plant them where I live. I like Mother Nature; the only thing that freaks me out are the creatures."



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