DGK Camp a hit in Odessa this summer

Odessan hopes to continue his work with young people in Odessa, Midland

Odessan Shawn Carrasco is a strong believer in his DGK (Da Gorilla Kids) Camp and hopes others will see his work with the marginalized youth of Odessa as worthy of future investments.

“I am praying the community responds in a big way and … if I get the support I need how many more kids will come out and I know I can really make a difference,” Carrasco said.

Without donations, Carrasco is worried he won’t be able to hold or expand the camp, which was primarily held at San Jacinto Park over the summer.

He had it rough growing up in a tough neighborhood in Corpus Christi and those years had a huge impact on his perspective on life, he said.

By age 12 he was basically homeless and he bounced around between relatives and friends. “I needed somebody in my life like who I am now but that person never came.”

Carrasco, who also lived in Dallas for a time, said he spent many years getting into trouble and “making enough mistakes that I ended up in a Texas prison.”

Aggravated assault convictions kept him in prison from the age of 18 to almost 34. “I spent 10 years in solitary confinement.”

He hopes to save troubled Odessa youth from life on the streets and from prison. A prison program saved his life and he uses much of what he learned there in his own interactions with children. The one-year program had 16 prisoners (all of whom graduated from the program) and nine of those 16 were in prison for murder, he said.

“I was determined to graduate from the group and I led that group of men and we spent a year isolated in a wing with them. I listened to each and every man’s testimony and I learned a lot,” Carrasco said. “I was hungry for change.”

The program strove for an atmosphere of safety, respect and cooperation so prisoners could do their time in a more peaceful environment. The single father of two took those lessons and applies them at his camp.

Carrasco’s camp is free and survives off of donations. He said without more donations the program is in danger. He said he has support from some elected officials, including City Councilman Mark Matta.

“I’m the type I am relentless when I am determined,” he said. He said his camp took students who had been turned away or kicked out of other programs locally. “We have multi million dollar churches and the YMCA and Boys Club and church camps and DGK was the least and the poorest of all of those but we were the best and only free summer camp in all of Odessa.”

Last year he mentored in some schools and had about 70 kids at his camp. This summer he said he had 140. “I’ve sacrificed everything for these kids who have suffered everything from the death of a parent to some being abandoned and some special needs kids….they have thrived with me even some who were suicidal and some with mental health issues.”

His camp uses older children to mentor younger ones (he takes ages 5 to 18) and also has six exercise stations and a reading program.

“The mentorship and leadership programs are important and if you ask me what I do …I help these children heal …I can make a connection with at risk and broken kids because I found my purpose in life and God gifted me to see the world through their eyes. I am one of these kids.”

Carrasco thanked community members who “stepped up” and provided snacks and drinks for the campers. He is asking the community to visit his website and make donations. “I want to unite this community through the youth.”

He said DGK began as a non-profit organization 501(c)(3) and has been used in ECISD and the Alternative Education Center. “We also work with children from Teen Court and have recently opened another camp in Midland. A safe, positive and free of charge environment for the children in our community.”