Summer Camp Campaign: A ‘top-notch kid’ gets a break from responsibilities
With his easygoing smile and brilliant red hair, 10-year-old Mason Brown looks like any other innocent kid with a slightly mischievous edge.
But chat with him for a few minutes and a sincere maturity shines through. He modestly shrugs as he talks about how he’s good in math despite not liking it much. He solemnly states his goal to attend the University of Texas, Austin, where he wants to study art, play quarterback for the Longhorns and then perhaps become the next Pau Gasol.
When he speaks of the Pathfinder Ranch summer camp that he attended last year at Mountain Center, Calif., however, a youthful energy bounces out as Mason not only talks about but also acts out his favorite activities — rock climbing and horseback riding.
But the subject always returns to his 6-year-old half-brother, Chris Jr., and his 3-year-old half-sister, Grace. Because Mason’s mother was involved with drugs and his stepfather was arrested in an alleged car theft, Mason and his siblings were sent to foster care for nearly a year. His father, Chris Brown, proved himself innocent and began a prolonged battle that finally convinced authorities in Tustin that he is able to take care of his children as a single father.
The elder Brown said he was blessed to have Mason, whom he adopted when Mason was 6 months old. They have been back together as a family for a year and a half, and Brown said Mason has been taking care of his younger siblings ever since their stint at foster care.
“He’s just a top-notch kid,” Brown said.
“His father needs Mason’s help because his mother is not in the picture,” said Gary Oustad, director of operations at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Tustin, a nonprofit youth development center that Mason and his brother go to after school every day while their father is working. “So basically it’s them raising his younger brother and sister.”
Oustad said that kids like Mason who attend Project HOPE, a year-round alternative education program for at-risk youth, don’t have many opportunities to take a break from school.
“This week at camp is something Mason earned because he doesn’t have to take care of his siblings,” Oustad said. “He gets to be a kid and just have fun.”
Oustad said that ever since Mason came back from camp last year, there have been visible changes in his personality.
“He was very reserved when he first came to us,” Oustad said. “But now he has really come out from his shell. He’s doing well academically and socially, and the camp has certainly helped with that by giving him confidence and building up his self-esteem.”
Mason will be attending summer camp again in August, and Chris Jr. will be joining him.
“I want to show him everything,” Mason said. “Last year I went by myself, and I had a lot of fun there, but I’ll bet with him there he’ll make it a lot more fun.”
Through the generosity of Times readers, along with a match by the McCormick Foundation, more than $1.6 million was granted last year by the Los Angeles Times Summer Camp Campaign.
The Summer Camp Campaign, part of the Los Angeles Times Family Fund, a McCormick Foundation Fund, supports programs that provide thousands of Southern California’s at-risk children ages 7-17 with enriching, educational and fun camp experiences.
Donations are tax-deductible as permitted by law and matched at 50 cents on the dollar. Donor information is not traded or published without permission. Donate online now at latimes.com/donate or by calling (800) 518-3975. All gifts will receive a written acknowledgement.