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Students attend OC camp for at-risk youth

July 21, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
A unique summer camp is giving a group of local kids the experience of a lifetime and changing lives in the process.

The students sing and dance the day away. But they get so much more from the experience.

"Charles" has come a long way. The 17-year-old only wants to use his first name. He's among 40 high school students learning dance, music and acting through a summer camp program at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts.

"The first day, Monday, I was pretty scared," said Charles. "I stayed in the back, didn't really talk to nobody."

Four days later Charles volunteered to sing alone.

"Kids are getting past their fear, taking healthy risks and making the creative process happen, and that process changes lives," said Talena Mara, vice president of education at Segerstrom Center for the Arts.

Like the other students selected for the camp, Charles has had a troubled past. At 10 years old, he says he started using drugs. He's now in recovery. He believes the program is another step forward.

"Not only have I been learning dance and stuff but I've been learning there are people out there in the world that actually want to help and support you and there are people to lead you step by step," said Charles.

The center's summer camp has been around for 20 years, and during that time more than 700 students have come through here.

"I've had a lot of stuff going on in my life," said "Riley," a camp participant. "I just got out of a long relationship and was really depressed."

Riley, 16, says the encouragement of others gives her confidence.

"It really taught me to be more myself," said Riley. "Not to care so much about what other people think."

"It's about sticking to it," said Mara. "Even if you're not a great dancer or a great singer, you can still feel really great doing it if you just stick to it."

The two-week program ends with public performances on July 30. The skills they've learned however, are meant to last a lifetime.

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