Rally Saturday Commemorates Young Pasadena Drowning Victim But Also Educates Parents on Summer Camps Safety

Six-year-old Roxie Forbes drowned last June at an Altadena summer camp

Published : Friday, October 11, 2019 | 4:45 AM

Rally for Roxie, a special tribute to the life of 6-year-old drowning victim Roxie Forbes, will be held at San Rafael Park on Saturday. It’s part-commemoration and part awareness activity, meant to help prevent other families from going through what parents Doug Forbes and Elena Matyas have endured since their only child’s death last June at Summerkids Camp in Altadena.

“Our daughter drowned at summer camp June 28,” Forbes said. “We have since been struggling with trying to figure out what to do to not only raise awareness about preventing drowning, but also to help parents understand what they need to do about asking questions and doing due diligence before sending their children off to day camp.”

The tragic event — still under official investigation — was preventable. In California, day camps are not under any obligation to report to a governing body, Forbes said.

“It’s unconscionable that daycare facilities have to report, but summer camps do not,” he said.

Forbes and Matyas are working with Sen. Anthony Portantino on a bill that would address this gap in legal obligation.

“I don’t know how anyone can’t be moved to action by Roxie and her parents,” Portantino said. “As a father of daughters who used to drop my girls off at summer camp and then hearing the incomprehensible, sad story of Roxie and her parents’ effort to make camps safer, I’m going to do everything I can to author legislation that helps them. I have already contacted one of the past authors of camp oversight efforts and asked him if I could work with him next year and he agreed to work with me.”

Forbes and Matyas started a foundation for their little girl and this Saturday’s Rally for Roxie is the first event under the auspices of their new Meow Meow Foundation.

“My mother sent Roxy a comfort doll when she was young,” Matyas said. “It was a cute cat. When Roxie could speak, one of the first things she said was ‘Meow Meow.’ So we’re using that name to comfort other people.”

The event will begin at 11:00 a.m. with a 15-minute “soulful, sing-along walk” from Pasadena’s San Rafael Elementary School to San Rafael Park.

The walk will be led by Roxie’s former music teacher from Pacific Oaks Children’s School. Catered food and drink will be available at the park, including an old-fashioned popcorn machine and special treats.

“This event is the culmination of everything,” Forbes said. “It’s to celebrate our daughter’s life of six and a half years. We had no services, so this is a way to have a remembrance and help other people, and thank the community.”

Forbes and Matyas hope to gather support and rally strength to press on in their quest to make sure that every day camp is mandated to comply with rules and regulations. The realization that there is no agency in California to which summer camps must report has been a shocking revelation and it’s something they are talking about to a range of people.

“There’s no oversight over for day camps,” Forbes said. “There is no agency overseeing day camps the way there are for daycare and before and after school programs.

“Instead of grieving which we do every day. Elena and I are trying to help others,” Forbes said. “That’s why we started the Meow Meow Foundation.”

Go to meowmeowfoundation.org for more information.

Forbes said parents need to be aware.

“It’s a light bulb moment for a lot of parents,” Forbes said. “You send your kid off to camp expecting the best. You do so without asking questions that we should ask, like ‘I want to see your lifeguard certificate,’ ‘I want to know how many years experience each lifeguard has,’ ‘I’d like to see your insurance policy,’ ‘What is your emergency action plan?’ You ask any parent if they think California day camps have to be licensed and see what they say. To me, this is an astonishing portrayal of what little value is on a kid’s head.”

The location of San Rafael Park to host the celebration also has significance.

“We would strap her into one of the swings and she loved this park,” Matyas said. “Roxy’s first school experience was at San Rafael Elementary.”

“During her first year there, we learned about Dia de los Muertos,” Matyas said. “We learned that death is part of a spiritual journey and celebration.”

“In our trauma, we did not have any sort of funeral, no services and we struggled with an appropriate way to say goodbye to Roxie,” Matyas said. “This is our ‘thank you’ to the community, to her teachers, friends, and to the strangers who have written heart-warming notes and dropped off food. It’s also to help children who have lost their friends. This is a way to help kids say goodbye and deal with loss. That’s why we’re choosing to do this in a celebratory way.”

Forbes said 38 states in our country regulate day camps, California is not one of them.

“It’s also important to note that there’s an accreditation process by American Camp Association, but it’s an advisory group,” he said. “As far as the accreditation process, it’s something the camps choose to be a part of.”

The parents are looking forward to Saturday’s event.

“There are so many days where I just don’t want to get out of bed and we’ve been propelled into a life without Roxie that we don’t want, but we don’t have a choice,” Matyas said. “Locking ourselves in the house doesn’t honor Roxie and doesn’t share her spirit. We had six and a half magical years and we want to make sure this never happens to another family again.”

The Rally for Roxie is scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 12, starting at 11 a.m., in San Rafael Park at the corner of Colorado Boulevard and Melrose Avenue in West Pasadena.

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