Kayaking? Check. Hiking? Check. ICO takes LA students on Catalina campout

Tuesday, June 10, 2014
Shirley Hickman

Most of the middle school kids had never been on a boat before. Most had never learned to swim, had never snorkeled or kayaked. And all 73 of them discovered a newfound love of camping and the outdoors.

Angeles Chapter's Inspiring Connections Outdoors (LA ICO) and 20s and 30s Section co-sponsored a camping trip for LAUSD students at Camp Emerald Bay, a Boy Scout Camp on Catalina Island, over Memorial Day weekend.

This is the wilder, western side of the island, far from the hotels and restaurants of Avalon.

Boys and girls from Irving Middle School, Carver Middle School and Ellen Ochoa Learning Center earned the trip by participating in at least two ICO hikes and signing a three-page contract guaranteeing their readiness for the trip.

The main selection criteria: Enthusiasm for the outdoors!

Their teachers, Esther Lee at Irving, Sonja Williams at Carver and Leticia Ortega at Ochoa, performed the heroic job (think spending five days a week with teens, then giving up your holiday weekend to go camping with them) of getting school and parent permission and accompanying their kids on the trip.

For youngsters who rarely leave their own underserved neighborhood, the ferry trip to Camp Emerald Bay was the first step in leaving their everyday lives. The wave-buffeted trip elicited screams of excitement.

Camp counselors, assisted by Sierra Club leaders and teachers, taught kids how to use the snorkeling masks and life jackets. The youngsters excitedly reported on seeing bright gold fish (garibaldi, California's state fish) and jellyfish. Their sightings were reinforced and expanded by a visit to the camp Science Marine Center, where they petted stingrays and leopard sharks, and watched an octopus slither across its aquarium.

Organizers again took the lead and taught the youngsters how to kayak. They all paddled out into the bay; many wanted to do it again.

Everyone hiked to Parsons Landing on the western tip of the island and enjoyed wading and watching the flight of seagulls and the crashing waves. A night hike was yet another exciting new adventure for these tweens and teens.

And, of course, there was a a campfire. Camp counselors commemorated Memorial Day with a flag retirement ceremony. Each school performed a skit or sang.

Camp director John George told a scary story that commanded everyone’s rapt attention. He commended everyone for leaving their comfort zones, a most appropriate commendation.

Help make future trips like this possible by contributing to LA ICO . If you would like to learn more about this trip, go to http://tinyurl.com/catalina2014.

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