- Associated Press - Thursday, July 31, 2014

GRANBURY, Texas (AP) - As an adolescent, Vicente Ocura didn’t really know how to process losing several family members within four years: grandparents to illnesses, his teenage cousin to murder and his newborn brother to a birth complication.

“When you’re dealing with death, it’s one thing when there’s only one,” said his father, Juan Ocura. “But when you come to the second one, the third, the fourth, the fifth, it becomes a burden on you because you don’t know how to react.”

The Dallas Morning News (https://bit.ly/1pIEGIZ ) reports Vicente Ocura suppressed the sadness, the confusion.

But the 16-year-old’s emotions caught up with him when he, his sister and his uncle started attending Camp El Tesoro de la Vida, a weeklong summer camp for youngsters between ages 6 and 17 who have dealt with a death in the family.

El Tesoro de la Vida, which means “the treasure of life,” is on 232 acres in Granbury. It is run by Camp Fire First Texas, a youth developmental agency in North Texas.

Participants go through the traditional camp activities, including hiking, swimming and canoeing, and an hour of group therapy every day. The therapy addresses causes of death from prolonged illnesses to crimes.

“Our ultimate goal is for a child to know that he or she is a kid first and a griever second,” camp director Denis Cranford said. “They don’t have to be anyone’s big sister. They don’t have to be the man of the house - all of the . roles they take when someone dies.”

About 130 youngsters are participating in this year’s camp, which costs $645. Sixty-seven percent of the campers received scholarships to cover all or part of the fee.

This is Vicente’s third year - and possibly his last - at Camp El Tesoro.

On Monday, the second day of camp, Vicente and some of his fellow campers clustered around a small remote-control airplane.

Counselor Shane Mudge sat on the grass, holding a laptop as he charted a flight plan. While they waited, campers peppered him with questions. What time was it? How long would the planning take? Was the plane going to work?

Mudge put them at ease with his calm voice and collected demeanor. He pressed a button on the black remote control and the plane whirred off into the distance.

Later in the day, though, Vicente and his camp cluster, made up of about 11 teenage boys, participated in a more serious exercise: the trust fall.

When it was Vicente’s turn, he took off his black-rimmed glasses, pulled himself up on a ledge and covered his eyes with a black-and-white bandanna.

“Spotters ready?” counselor and therapist Brian Miller shouted.

“Ready,” the boys replied.

“Faller ready?”

“Ready,” Vicente said before he fell backward off the ledge and landed in the arms of his camp buddies.

“We got you buddy, we got you,” one of the campers said as Vicente got back on his feet.

After the exercise, Miller moderated a discussion about trust.

“You guys just fell off a platform that could have injured you pretty bad. But you trusted us to be there and catch you, right?” he told the boys. “There’s a lot of parallel to that when we sit down in a circle, talking about stuff we don’t talk about.”

Meanwhile, a few acres from Vicente’s group, Houston resident Sofia Del Villar and the girls in her camp group were relaxing in their cabin, taking a break from the sweltering heat outside.

Del Villar’s dad died in 2011 after a localized cancer spread throughout his body. She started coming to the camp about three years ago.

“It’s kind of to get away from the world,” she said. In daily life, “you don’t really get to talk to people about who passed away because they look at you really awkward. But here, it’s a normal thing.”

Miller, a mental health therapist since 2001, said Camp El Tesoro’s format - 90 percent fun and 10 percent therapy - helps youngsters talk about the person who died and realize that death is a part of life.

Vicente said he initially struggled with anger but has learned to channel the emotions into something productive: cross-country.

“Before I went to this camp, I had bad thoughts - sad thoughts,” he said. “Ever since last year, all my anger just went away. . I still get mad, but not as much as I used to. When I get mad, I think about camp and I miss it.”

Camp El Tesoro also leaves an imprint on its 80 volunteers, many of whom take time off from work to participate.

Volunteer Corinthia Campbell’s mother and stepfather died in a murder-suicide when she was 13. She didn’t really grieve until she joined Camp El Tesoro as a camp buddy in 2008.

“It took me decades to even acknowledge that I had a grieving process to go through from my own parents’ death,” she said. “Once I got up here, it was even more eye-opening to see the kids who were at the age when I lost my parents.”

As his days at Camp El Tesoro wind down, Vicente said he is ready to move on emotionally, just not ready to part with his counselors and friends.

“I don’t want it to end at all,” he said. “I’m probably going to cry at the end.”

He hopes to return as a volunteer so he can help others juggle life and grief.


Information from: The Dallas Morning News, https://www.dallasnews.com

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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