August 10, 2010
The wildflowers at Camp Titan in Big Bear make for exotic terrain. The California wild rose is pink and delicate. The brilliant red-purple spires of fireweed bloom from the tops of tall, majestic, leafy stems. Flame-colored spikes ascend from the stalks of Indian paintbrush.
Many campers will be experiencing these wildflowers for the first time as they connect with a new environment as well as new ideas and positive role models.
Camp Titan, run by Cal State Fullerton, is staffed entirely by the university’s students. It serves children ages 7 to 14 who come from low-income families and foster or group homes in Orange County.
The main goal of counselors and staff is to make sure the campers have a safe and fun-filled time. But they also believe that by acting as positive role models, they can motivate campers to challenge themselves and set goals. Most of all, they hope to encourage kids to consider college.
As counselor Joseph Lopez says, “If you can get a 10-year-old who might not be considering college to get excited about the possibility, that’s important.” Lopez has worked at Camp Titan every year since 2007. His first experience encouraged him to become more active in student government; he is now president of the student body.
When not engaged in organizing activities such as swimming, hiking, canoeing and crafts, he will pull a camper aside to chat about the future. Inevitably, the discussion turns to Lopez’s own life and his experience at Cal State Fullerton. With enthusiasm, he explains what it’s like to live on campus, choose an area of study, work with professors and engage with other students. And, of course, to help other young people by working at Camp Titan. He thinks the discussions make a difference.
“For the campers to spend a week around college kids gives them people to look up to,” Lopez says. “They might hope to be Joe the Camp Titan counselor instead of following a less positive role model.”
Kimberly Fragola agrees. Like Lopez, she’s worked at Camp Titan for several years, this summer as program director. She recounts the story of one 14-year-old boy who was a troublemaker his first two years at camp; he didn’t get along with other kids and was disrespectful to the staff. Still, counselors remained positive, rewarding his good behavior with praise and encouragement. He returned for his third year as a model camper.
Toward the end of the camp session, the boy confided in Fragola about the negative atmosphere in his home and how the positive camp environment had given him a new perspective. They then began discussing college and opportunities to work at Camp Titan.
“I don’t know if he will go to college,” Fragola says, “but he knows it’s attainable. When the kids leave Camp Titan, they always say that they are determined to work harder at school and reach for their goals.”
For Fragola, Lopez and the other counselors, these words are the perfect way to say goodbye.
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 at latimes.com/donate.
Copyright © 2010, Los Angeles Times
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