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TIMES CAMP FUND

Siblings have mastered resilience; next is ambition

August 30, 2004|Michael Ordona | Times Staff Writer

Erick and Dulce Vera may well be the kids without fear. Scary stories, a new country, even a thrashing by miffed cows are not enough to put a chill in these Oxnard siblings' bones.

Erick, 11, claims to be afraid of the dark, especially since hearing folktales of the Mexican ghostly figure la llarona. But when he's hungry in the middle of the night, he suddenly doesn't care about the dark and strolls right through the unlighted house to the refrigerator.

When he was 3, Erick's parents moved from Michoacan, Mexico, to the United States. The walls of their modest home are now lined with photos of the smiling siblings with their preschooler brother. Trophies, honor roll certificates and medals are prominently displayed.

Erick and Dulce's fieldworker parents didn't have enough money initially to bring both of them, so Dulce, now 9 but then only 18 months old, stayed with her maternal grandparents for four months. Carmen Vera says her worst fears were almost realized when her daughter ran afoul of the family's cows in Mexico.

While Dulce's grandfather was milking the animals, the girl grabbed a cow's ears. The annoyed beast apparently bucked the child into the other cows, one of which stepped on the toddler. After a suitable period of crying as if she were dying, Dulce was soon laughing and trying to get close to the animals.

The incident did not diminish her love of nature. She cites being outdoors as one of the reasons she's eager to return to camp this summer with Erick. They will attend the Society of St. Vincent de Paul's Circle V Ranch near Santa Barbara, courtesy of the Los Angeles Times Summer Camp Campaign and Food Share Inc., with support from the Ventura County Office of Education's migrant education program.

Although the two frequently finish each other's sentences and both have earned trophies for participation in basketball, they are very different.

Wanda Kelly, migrant coordinator of the Rio School District Migrant Education Program, says Dulce is "articulate, very friendly, very happy and kind" but that Erick "is more serious; he gets the idea of what his parents are about, what they're trying to do here."

Erick says, "They brought me to the United States so I could study and be somebody, not to come here and just be fooling around. If I don't want to do what they're doing and struggle a lot, I have to go to the university."

About 11,000 children will go to camp this summer, thanks to $1.6 million raised last year.

The annual fund-raising campaign is part of the Los Angeles Times Family Fund of the McCormick Tribune Foundation, which this year will match the first $1.1 million in contributions at 50 cents on the dollar.

Donations are tax-deductible. For more information, call (213) 237-5771. To make donations by credit card, go to latimes.com/summercamp.

To send checks, use the attached coupon. Do not send cash.

Unless requested otherwise, gifts of $50 or more will be acknowledged in The Times.

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