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Summer Camp Fund: From camper to staffer and a new life

For some inner city youths, summer camp is not just an opportunity to have fun and experience nature. It’s the chance to get away from impoverished neighborhoods, street gangs, crime and the threat of jail time.

Eddie Ramos has firsthand knowledge of the role camp can play in turning around a boy’s life. His first lessons were at R.M. Pyles Boys Camp as a 14-year-old from East L.A. nicknamed “Wolf.”

As Ramos tells it, he was headed, as a kid, for a lifetime of trouble. His episodes of fighting threatened to get him expelled from school. He had become immersed in the violence of street life even after seeing his “homeboys” thrown into prison.

Still, Ramos’ grades were good. Recognizing his intelligence and determination, a school counselor suggested Pyles Boys Camp as a way to escape the cycle of gangs and crime.

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Motivating at-risk or disadvantaged youths is a key goal at Pyles Boys Camp. Nestled among the Redwoods in Sequoia National Monument and Park, the camp prides itself on a staff of dedicated leaders who know how to bring about dramatic and positive changes in their campers.

Ramos initially failed to appreciate the possible change that camp might make in his life. He resisted leaving East L.A. and once at camp spent his early days trying to get sent back home by causing trouble and starting fights.

Eventually, Ramos began enjoying the peaceful setting. Hiking, backpacking, archery, horseback riding and the ropes course gave him the chance to challenge himself rather than other boys. The counselors pushed Ramos to perform well both at games and camp chores and taught him the value of good work ethics. He learned, he said, that, “regardless of your circumstances, there’s a way out.”

Ramos returned again as a camper the next year, and the year after that. Then he joined the staff, rising from cook’s assistant to program coordinator. From ages 14 to 23, Ramos spent every summer at Pyles Boys Camp.

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Ramos earned a degree in sociology at Humboldt State University, then a master’s degree from USC’s School of Social Work. Following school, he obtained a position with the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health as a psychiatric social worker. Now 36, he continues to volunteer at Pyles Boys Camp.

As he considers his life before enrolling in camp, Ramos becomes reflective, saying, “I can only guess where I would have ended up.”

Steven Makoff, a current program director at Pyles, believes that Ramos’ story is not unusual. “Many boys come to us with limited choices and possibilities,” he says. “Pyles Camp gives these boys the chance to experience achievement and to broaden their view of the world.”

Ramos agrees. “Camp helped to develop the self-confidence to overcome my challenges,” he says.

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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.

Donations are tax-deductible as permitted by law. Addresses will not be released or published. Mail donations using the attached form (do not send cash), donate by phone at (800) 518-3975 or donate online now at latimes.com/donate.

daina.solomon@latimes.com

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