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SAN CLEMENTE : Teen Camp Message Is Anti-Gang

Through the sounds of the surf, a group of South County teen-agers has been listening to a message against gang involvement this week as part of a special summer camp on the shores of Camp Pendleton.

About 16 youths who live in parts of San Clemente and San Juan Capistrano experienced a different kind of setting through the day camp, sponsored by the nonprofit Community Service Programs Inc.

“This is the only sign we use,” said gang prevention counselor Derek Diaz, flashing a peace sign to a group of his campers Friday.

As they flashed the peace sign back, it was clear that the themes of the camp were getting through.

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“Stay out of gangs,” said one youth, when asked what he had learned during the week.

“Just say no to drugs and yes to pizza,” said another, laughing.

Diaz, along with gang prevention counselor Monica Vejarano, created the camp program to give the teens a chance to vacation in style, while setting goals and developing a sense of responsibility to themselves and their communities.

With the help of CSP gang prevention director Max Madrid, who recently retired from the Navy, the organization was able to hold the five-day camp in three cottages at the private Camp Pendleton San Onofre Recreational Beach.

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“The camp gives us the best opportunity we have for counseling,” Diaz said.

In just one week, Diaz said he has seen changes in the youths that may have otherwise taken several weeks of counseling to achieve.

“They start smiling a lot,” he said. “They want to help. They start working together.”

During the week, campers were restricted from watching television or hanging out. Instead, they were kept involved in sports, games, and workshops with Orange County sheriff’s deputies on such issues as gangs and community responsibility.

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“From this camp, I hope that they see they can be together, but in a positive way,” Vejarano said.

The group of youths ages 13 to 16--most of whom live in San Clemente--were invited to attend the camp, free of charge, because of their leadership abilities, Diaz said.

All have been active in past CSP gang prevention activities, developed through contracts with the cities of San Clemente, Dana Point and San Juan Capistrano.

Funding for the camp came primarily through donations from the Kiwanis, Junior Women’s and Rotary clubs in San Clemente, officials said.

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The San Clemente Beaches, Parks and Recreation Department also provided transportation and other assistance.

On most days, the campers reached the beach around 8 a.m. and started the morning with a one-mile run and chores.

Later there would be workshops and activities, including team contests and beach cleanup expeditions to assist the Camp Pendleton Marines.

Finally, before going home in the evenings, there was time for campfires and marshmallow roasts.

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“It’s like a picnic,” said 13-year-old Rene Quinonez.

Added 15-year-old Rosalio Hernandez, who like most others in the group had never attended summer camp before: “I’ll remember having a lot of fun.”


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