By Tyler BIDDLE
The wilderness of Glendale awaits!
Camp Max Straus held its Gear Up for Camp Day on Sunday, providing over a thousand disadvantaged kids with all the gear they will need for its upcoming summer camp programs. Located in the Glendale Verdugo Hills, the camp aims to help at-risk children in the community have a fully featured summer camp experience regardless of income.
Camp Max Straus is owned and operated by Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles. It originally began in 1937 as a camp for children of Jewish immigrants. Max Straus donated the money for the first 50 acres of the camp, which has been expanding ever since. Now the camp is in its 76th year and stretches over 112 acres. Most importantly, about 50 years ago the camp opened its doors to children of all faiths and colors.
The camp takes on about 1,000 kids every year from the ages of 7 to 12 from disadvantaged backgrounds.
“Some of these kids have been living in L.A. and have never seen the ocean before,” said Barry Vigon, the camp director. The kids often come from inner city homelessness, foster care or families at poverty levels. Camp Straus works closely with foster programs and social service agencies to find children who will benefit the most from the programs. Parents can pay a fee for their child to attend camp or can have it waived based on need. No child is turned away for financial reasons.
On Sunday, future campers were treated to a whole host of supplies such as toothbrushes, sleeping bags, flashlights, towels and sun block. The kids went home with laundry bags full of essential supplies that most families would otherwise not be able to afford. The day included a variety of attractions including a DJ from Disney, games and activities, and a free lunch.
“I can’t tell you the feeling I get,” said Vigon. “Not only are we giving these kids experiences they have never had, we are also trying to make better citizens. It’s providing another world for kids right here in the middle of Glendale.”
The campers get to partake in many outdoor activities such as horseback riding, swimming, rock climbing and navigating ropes courses. Other activities include archery, arts and crafts, baking, and drama. The camp also brings in farm animals for the kids to meet up close and personal, and even has two deer that live on the campus.
The camp counselors are also an experience in themselves. Most of those who make it through the rigorous selection process are young people working in the fields of sociology and education and many of them are from countries overseas such as England, Australia and South Africa. Contrasted with this eclectic group are the counselors who were once campers themselves and are from the same inner-city communities as the kids they help. This gives campers a social balance between those they can connect with on a familiar level and those they can connect with on a level beyond the boundaries of their own communities.
“We really try to invest in the kids,” Vigon said, explaining that Camp Straus is not just about one summer of fun. They are in the business of changing lives for the long haul.
The camp invites kids back every summer until they are old enough to move on. But it doesn’t stop there. At the age of 16, returning campers can become a part of the counselors-in-training program that lasts until they are 18. If they stick with it, trainees are almost always hired as full-fledged counselors for the camp at the professional level. In addition, for those wishing to attend college who took part in the program, the camp offers partial scholarships.
Those wishing to make a donation to Camp Straus or to enroll their own children in upcoming summer programs can visit www.jbbbsla.org.