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SUMMER CAMP CAMPAIGN

For Luisa, camp was a place to heal

Her best friend tried to lure her into joining a gang and their falling out resulted in threats and harassment.

July 10, 2009|Juliette Funes

Living in a gang-infested area in Los Angeles, Yolanda Reyes was determined to protect her 16-year-old daughter, Luisa, from any outside hazards, but little did she know the teen's best friend would be the biggest threat.

Luisa began failing school, ditching classes and was almost persuaded by her friend to join a gang. Despite Reyes' concerns and warnings, the two remained close, until they had a falling out, resulting in Luisa being threatened and harassed.

"My daughter, with all her heart, had so much affection for her best friend," Reyes said.

Emotionally traumatized and depressed, Luisa began counseling. Escaping from her sorrow, she and Reyes went to the Scott Newman Center's Rowdy Ridge Gang Camp, a summer program for mothers and children recovering from drug abuse or domestic violence.

"Going to camp made me not think about it," Luisa said.

"It's hard not to laugh there."

Located in the San Bernardino Mountains, the site welcomes 500 mothers ages 18 to 40 and their children ages 2 to 17 each summer. Groups are divided according to their age, providing them a place to heal and chance to create new relationships.

Still recuperating and trying to open up to people, Luisa will be returning to camp this month with her mom and brother to engage in family and individual recreational activities.

"You get to meet new people and get to interact and be with them," she said. "It helps us relax and we let our problems go for that whole week."

Her mom doesn't mind the relaxation either, saying that it makes her feel like a kid again.

"They transmit this happiness and enjoyment that makes you forget about everything," Reyes said. "You get there and relax and forget about life's routine."

It gives moms a break and allows kids to venture out and be independent, added Ruben Barajas, the executive director of the center.

"At our camps, mom is there the whole time to see what transpires and see how their son or daughter grows and develops," he said. "When a parent sees these things it has a much more powerful effect. They have that experience in common."

With $1.8 million raised last year by the Los Angeles Times Summer Camp Campaign, approximately 8,000 children will go to camp in Southern California this summer.

The Summer Camp Campaign is part of the Los Angeles Times Family Fund, a McCormick Foundation fund, which matches all donations at 50 cents on the dollar.

Donations are tax-deductible as permitted by law. Addresses will not be released or published.

For more information, call (800) LA-TIMES, Ext. 75771, or e-mail familyfund@latimes .com.

Mail donations using the attached form (do not send cash), donate by phone at (800) 518-3975 or donate online now at latimes.com/donate.

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juliette.funes@latimes.com

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