As Veronica Murua twists the long brown strands of her pigtail away from her ocean-blue eyes, her face scrunches in thought. The 13-year-old is searching for the right words to express her anticipation about going to summer camp for the first time.
“Have you seen the movie — what’s it called? With Lindsay Lohan? ‘The Parent Trap’? I see camp there and I think, oh my God, I like it! That’s the closest I’ve come to camp — the TV,” Veronica concludes with a laugh.
The teen is one of 100 participants of Keep Youth Doing Something (KYDS) who will travel to Santa Barbara County’s Los Padres National Forest to attend Camp Whittier for five days this summer.
Based in Van Nuys, with services scattered around greater Los Angeles, KYDS endeavors to provide low-income and at-risk youths with positive, empowering experiences. The El Sereno Middle School KYDS after-school program that Veronica attends daily focuses on homework help. “They push me toward what I have to achieve, even when I don’t want to,” Veronica says.
According to Nicole Martin, site manager for KYDS in El Sereno, Veronica is poised to take advantage of all camp has to offer. “She’s a great girl, funny and confident,” Martin says. “And incredibly positive, given the circumstances.”
The circumstances are harsh. Veronica was born in prison, where her mother and father were incarcerated for much of Veronica’s life. They were deported to Tijuana about two years ago, says Veronica’s older sister, Evelyn Gomez. Veronica has lived with Gomez, 25, and Gomez’s 5-year-old daughter in East Los Angeles for the last three years. Her childhood was spent bouncing among foster homes.
Veronica’s long-term plans include studying vocal music in college. Other eventual goals are to hire a nurse for her grandmother and to buy a truck for her grandfather.
For now, she’s ready for a week free from family concerns. When Veronica asks Martin whether her sister will need to drive her to camp, Martin responds, “No, no, we’re taking all the kids on a big bus. You’re taken care of; we provide everything.” Veronica’s smile widens until her face beams.
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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