Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Former camper returns to Riverview's Camp Cristina to inspire others

RIVERVIEW — Brandon Mojica isn't exactly sure why his mom sent him to Camp Cristina when he was a quiet 7-year-old. Twelve years later, though, it doesn't really matter.

The recent Newsome High School graduate is back at a YMCA camp for a third stint, this time as a counselor. Now with responsibilities and kids to look after, Mojica's role certainly has changed, but his circumstances have not. He still has the absence of loved ones on his mind.

Starting with the loss of his 17-year-old sister, who died in a car accident a couple of months before Mojica first attended Riverview's Camp Cristina, he's used camp as an outlet to heal.

"She was like my best friend," Mojica recalled of his sister, Nicole. "It was really hard to lose someone that close and that young."

But camp helped.

It helped him open up. It helped him form friendships that carried on to school. And it helped him forget about the loss of his sister, at least during the day.

"At the beginning it was rough on him," said his father, Benny Mojica. "He was holding it all in, and then he started going to camp. It kept him occupied."

About five years later, Brandon faced another loss. This time it was his grandma, to whom he had grown close after his sister died. So he went back to camp. He enrolled at the Campo Family YMCA day camp in Valrico.

Again, it helped him get through the death and face the adversity.

More recently, Brandon lost his mother. She died in 2006 after a battle with lung cancer. Past the age of a camper, Brandon, now 19, returned to Camp Cristina this summer to work as a counselor. He credits the YMCA camps with helping him grow up.

"It helped me become a man," said Brandon, who runs the camp's new paintball course. "You mature way faster when you lose someone, and you take things a lot more seriously. I just wanted to come back and help the kids out."

In his first summer as a counselor, Brandon has already influenced campers with his high energy and shared passion for paintball, said program director Darren Dannelly.

"I see him come to life when he is here," he said. "I see the kids come to life. He has a lot to give, and it's amazing, because of his story, how much he wants to keep giving."

Austin Keske, an 11-year-old who has spent the past few summers at Camp Cristina, said Brandon is like a big brother.

"When I'm around him, I kind of feel like I can tell him anything," Keske said. "I can rely on him. I trust him a lot."

Brandon spends his time much differently on the campgrounds than he did while growing up. Now known as "Mr. Brandon" or "The Paintball Guy," he maintains the equipment, plays with the campers and swims with them before they go home.

He admits being a counselor isn't easy, but he likes to think he makes a difference in the campers' lives. Brandon will attend Hillsborough Community College in the fall, and if his class schedule permits, he plans to work at the camp's after-school program.

"Seeing that I can help someone just makes my day even better," he said. "It makes me remember my mom, because she was always a loving and giving person, and I just want to do good by her."

Kevin Smetana can be reached at ksmetana@sptimes.com or (813) 661-2439.

Former camper returns to Riverview's Camp Cristina to inspire others 08/06/09 [Last modified: Thursday, August 6, 2009 4:30am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Rays send down Chase Whitley, Andrew Kittredge; add Chih-Wei Hu, acitvate Alex Cobb

    Blogs

    After having to cover more than five innings following a short start by Austin Pruitt, the Rays shuffled their bullpen following Wednesday's game, sending down RHPs Chase Whitley and Andrew Kittredge,

    The Kittredge move was expected, as he was summoned to add depth to the pen Wednesday in advance of RHP Alex …

  2. MLB commissioner Rob Manfred moves closer to wanting a decision on Rays stadium

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred called Wednesday for urgency from Tampa Bay area government leaders to prioritize and move quicker on plans for a new Rays stadium.

    MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred talks with reporters at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2017.
  3. Six home runs doom Rays in loss to Blue Jays (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — A curve that didn't bounce was the difference Wednesday as the Rays lost 7-6 to the Blue Jays in front of 8,264, the smallest Tropicana field crowd since Sept. 5, 2006.

    Tampa Bay Rays shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria (11) greets center fielder Kevin Kiermaier (39) at the plate after his two run home run in the third inning of the game between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2017.
  4. Jones: Stop talking and start building a new Rays stadium

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — It was good to see Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred at Tropicana Field on Wednesday, talking Rays baseball and the hope for a new stadium somewhere in Tampa Bay.

    Commissioner Rob Manfred is popular with the media on a visit to Tropicana Field.
  5. Ousted to political Siberia by Corcoran, Kathleen Peters sets sights on Pinellas Commission

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — The perks of power in Tallahassee are a coveted chairmanship, a Capitol office in a prime location and a prominent seat on the House floor. Now Rep. Kathleen Peters has lost all three, but here's the twist: Her trip to "Siberia" might actually help her reach the next step on the Tampa Bay political …

    Rep. Kathleen Peters, R-South Pasadena, has been relegated to the back row in the State House chamber, moved to a fouth floor office and stripped of her job as chairwoman of a House subcommittee after a series of disagreements with House Speaker Richard Corcoran. [SCOTT KEELER | Tampa Bay Times]