“Imagine that it’s raining lemonade!” Stephanie Snell hollers. Immediately, the 7- and 8-year-old girls clustered around their drama teacher take off in every direction to sip the make-believe sugary drops descending from the sky. One lifts her head and sticks out her tongue. Another giggles and jumps in the air. A third shrieks and squirms with disgust.
Welcome to Camp Max Straus, where Snell’s theater games are one of many ways that campers learn to express themselves and cooperate with others while also developing independence, confidence and self-esteem.
Run by the Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles the nondenominational camp serves children ages 7 to 12 from single-parent homes, foster homes and low-income families. They are never turned away based on inability to pay. The La Canada-Flintridge campsite accommodates about 1,000 kids throughout the course of each summer.
Like most summer camps, Camp Max Straus offers activities such as horseback riding, swimming, archery, hiking and sports. But the drama program is a highlight for the five-day and 12-day sessions offered throughout the summer.
In the shorter sessions, improvisation games such as “Imagine That” teach about movement and expression. Those who attend one of the long sessions put on a play. The most recent was “Pirate’s Booty,” a musical about cooperative pirates searching for treasure. Snell adds contemporary touches too, such as the character dubbed “Captain Justin Bieber.”
Besides being fun, the theater games and productions help campers communicate, cooperate and interact more effectively—particularly important for children who come from a variety of cultural backgrounds and walks of life.
In addition, Snell explains that children who were initially shy learn to express themselves. “By the time they’re on stage they’ve embraced their acting roles and use them to reveal their personalities,” she says.
Camp director Barry Vigon agrees. “In this group setting,” he says, “the children come out of their shells and start building self-esteem.”
Program director Michael Yanow adds that the drama program is not only about acting. Kids get involved behind the scenes by taking on jobs such as set design and lighting. By being in charge of multiple aspects of the production, they learn to take responsibility. It’s designed to be a fun experience, but more than that, empowering.
With $1.6 million raised last year by the Los Angeles Times Summer Camp Campaign approximately 6,500 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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