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Times Summer Camp Fund

Rocio, 8, Just Wants to Be Part of Crowd

July 03, 2002|KWALA MANDEL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

No matter how hot it is outside, 8-year-old Rocio Lara always wears long-sleeved sweaters. "She has these sweaters that zip up the front and cover her all the way up," said Beatriz Garcia, site coordinator at the Maravilla 4-H Program in East L.A., where Rocio stays every day. "She is very self-conscious about the scar on her chest."

"It is kind of ugly, it is kind of big--if I wear spaghetti strap shirts, you can see it," Rocio said in a soft voice. "Sometimes, to make a friend is kind of hard. When I wear shirts, they see my scar and say, 'What happened?' "

The fourth-grader had double-bypass surgery last year because of holes in two arteries. When she was diagnosed in Mexico, her parents packed up their four children and moved to the United States to get better medical care for Rocio. Because money was tight, they stayed in the Maravilla public housing with their extended family--12 people (four adults, eight children) share a three-bedroom apartment. Her mother took a job packaging goods in Chinatown; her father is a long-distance trucker who can't always be with the family.

Although Rocio is recovering well from the surgery, the entire family is called on to protect the child from overexertion. "If she is jumping rope, her cousins will stop her and say, 'You've already jumped too much," said Garcia. Her 10-year-old cousin, Darlene Rodriguez, said she tries to protect Rocio by "telling her not to run that much because probably she might have a heart attack or something."

"Her parents have said, 'Please don't push her physically' because they are afraid her heart will work too hard. But she gets really frustrated because she wants to participate," said Garcia.

Keith Nathaniel, the 4-H program director, is hoping that a six-day stay at Camp Seeley, in the San Bernardino mountains, will give Rocio a chance to "regain a sense of how to adjust to her life."

Thanks to the Los Angeles Times summer camp campaign, she will have a chance to participate in everything from fishing to hiking, but what she is most excited about is swimming--so much so that, even though she is self-conscious about her scar, she wants her mom to buy her a blue-and-pink two-piece bathing suit that she picked out.

This would be a big step, Garcia said. "It will give her the chance to be outside of the boundaries they are setting for her."

Participating with the other campers may also soften Rocio's vision of herself as an outsider. "She doesn't perceive herself to be like other children, even though she is. She won't raise her hand, and if I call on her, she knows the right answer but is afraid to speak out," said Garcia. "Going to camp could really empower her."

Every year since 1954, readers and employees of The Times have sent thousands of needy children to summer camp. This year more than 11,000 children will experience a special summer thanks to the $1.6 million raised last year.

The average cost of sending a child to camp for a week is $150. This year, the McCormick Tribune Foundation will match the first $1.2 million in contributions at 50 cents on the dollar.

Checks should be sent to: L.A. Times Summer Camp Campaign, File No. 56984, Los Angeles, CA 90074-6984. For more information, call (213) 237-5771. To make credit-card donations, visit www.latimes.com/summercamp. Do not send cash.

All donations are tax-deductible. Unless donors request otherwise, gifts of $25 or more are acknowledged in The Times. The summer camp campaign is part of the Los Angeles Times Family Fund, a fund of the McCormick Tribune Foundation.

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