Giving children a chance through camp

A Chance for Children Foundation, founded by “Baywatch” creator Greg Bonann and partner Tai Collins, hosts summer camp for inner city and homeless youth.

By Leslie Wade / Special to The Malibu Times

The sun peeked through the clouds last week as more than 40 homeless and inner city children from the greater Los Angeles area participated in a camp at the Pepperdine University Raleigh Runnels Memorial Pool that offered them activities and events some might not ever have had the chance to experience.

The weeklong camp, sponsored by A Chance for Children Foundation, a nonprofit organization aimed at improving the lives of inner city and homeless youth in the greater Los Angeles area, takes place annually at the Pepperdine campus.

The camp comprises a weeklong schedule packed with confidence-building activities including one-on-one swimming lessons, scuba diving lessons, surf lessons, a boat ride on Los Angeles County lifeguard boats and a day at the beach with a visit from a United States Coast Guard helicopter.

“This year was the first year that everyday we had more volunteers than we had kids,” said Greg Bonann, cofounder of A Chance for Children Foundation.


Some of the youth – who come from shelters, including Valley Shelter, the Triangle House, and Communidad Cesar Chavez in East Los Angeles – have never seen the ocean before and are not only swimming, but also jumping off the high dive by the end of the camp.

It is not just about teaching the children to swim, Bonann said, it is about teaching them to conquer their fears and that, he said, is an irreplaceable life lesson.

The foundation, which started in 1992 as Camp Baywatch, is a joint effort by locals Tai Collins and Bonann.

Bonann, the creator of the popular television series “Baywatch,” who has served as a lifeguard for more than 41 years, said the idea for the camp came from his desire to teach children how to swim.

“Swimming is the one sport that can save your life and someone else’s,” he said.

Bonann enlisted the help of Collins, a freelance writer whom he met on the set of “Baywatch.”

“My vision has turned into her vision,” Bonann said.

Collins, who is cofounder and executive director of the foundation, has done volunteer work throughout the world. Her desire to work with youth is what inspired her to take Bonann’s idea to the next level.

“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men,” Collins said, quoting Frederick Douglass. “We are molding human beings for the future.”

More than 18 years later, a program that started as a weeklong summer camp with 25 youth has grown into a year-round program and life-saving foundation that was selected by the “Today Show” as the Lend a Hand Charity of the year.

Collins, who has recently been nicknamed the “Godmother of Los Angeles” by MSNBC, did not live a fairytale life and that, she said, is what motivates her.

“I am trying to save these kids because someone saved me,” said Collins, referring to her childhood Sunday school teacher Margaret East. She reached out to Collins, who grew up in an abusive home and in poverty.

“These kids come to camp and don’t know what a dream is … they live in neighborhoods where they can’t play outside and we give them the chance to play in the grass and do some of the most basic things that we take for granted,” Collins said.

Funded entirely through private donations, the foundation relies on the support of the community.

Throughout the years, Collins said, there has been “tremendous community involvement.” Large sponsors, including Nike and swimsuit company TYR, donate supplies including towels, swimsuits and goggles for the camp, and locals donate their time and energy.

“The kids are drowning in the inner city,” Bonann said. “Some way or another, school has turned into daycare … it’s shocking that these kids get to the 9th grade and can’t read.”

The growing foundation also funds after-school programs including creative writing, ballet, etiquette, art and film making classes, as well as reading and tutoring sessions.

Bonann said, for him, giving back to the community is “in a small way, a sort of psychic income.”

“It is a tangible, hands-on way of making a difference in a society that rarely gives you that opportunity,” Bonann said.

More information about A Chance for Children Foundation can be obtained online at or by contacting Tai Collins directly via email at

The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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