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Times Summer Camp Fund

Girl Who Looks After Herself Gets a Break

July 24, 2002|KWALA MANDEL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Tesia spends almost every day at the Boys & Girls Club of Cypress, located across the street from her apartment. Several staff members of the club have talked to the 12-year-old's mother by phone but most have not met her.

"I can't go to places where there are a lot of people because I get panic attacks," said the mother, Sheila, who says her failing eyesight restricts her from leaving her home.

"When the mom is not feeling well, basically, the mom stays in bed," said Lupe Bravo, director of operations for the club. "You've got a child who comes home and makes breakfast, lunch and dinner for herself."

There are no other family members close by to step in--Tesia's father lives out-of-state and rarely visits.

She copes with her mother's limitations by turning to friends and neighbors and trying to stay involved in school plays.

"She is a very social person," said her mother, who added that her daughter "is the kind of kid that is always busy doing something."

Still, there are times when the girl is more aware of her mother's absence.

"At school, she doesn't think about it, but when it comes time for the play that she's been working so hard on, and other kids have parents there, it does affect her," Bravo said.

Tesia often acts as her mother's representative to the world by carrying messages back and forth between her mother and the school principal.

"Tesia is her mom's spokesperson, but it is difficult to work with Tesia as opposed to working with an adult," Bravo said.

Last year, for example, when she was in the fourth grade, Tesia had to organize her own summer camp applications. She missed the deadline for filling the necessary paperwork and had to spend the summer in the city. She filed in time for this summer and will be attending Pathfinder Ranch in Hemet.

Being on her own so much can get Tesia into trouble just as with any other kid. "We are authority to Tesia," Bravo said. "We need to make her understand that even if Mom won't come, there are still people who are going to make sure she knows right from wrong."

The Boys & Girls Club is sending Tesia to camp, with the support of The Times' summer camp campaign, to help her break out of the isolation that surrounds her home life. The camp experience, Bravo said, will help Tesia "to be productive and not get a reclusive and 'poor me' attitude. Hopefully, she'll be strong."

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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