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Children of Sept. 11 victims get a week at camp in the Berkshires
By Trudy Tynan, Associated Press, 08/18/02
LENOX, Mass. -- They will swim, ride horses, play baseball and try archery and canoeing, much like at any other summer camp.
But the 85 children at America's Camp have a special, sad bond. All of the 7- to 13-year-olds lost a parent or guardian during the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.
"The object is fun," said Dan Zenkel, president of CampGroup LLC, which donated the use of Camp Mah-Kee-Nac in the scenic Berkshire Hills to the Twin Towers Fund for the special camp this week.
Dozens of local organizations and businesses, along with artists and sports celebrities, are contributing goods and time to the weeklong camp.
"We want give them the time of their lives and maybe help in the healing process," Zenkel said. "When 85 kids get together they can't help but talk."
The counselors, who are volunteering their time, have all received special training from the Center for Grieving Children in Portland, Maine. Special grief counselors and a psychiatrist will also be available, he said.
Most of all the children need a chance to be children again, said Lisa Friedman of Woodbury, N.Y., who lost her husband, Andrew, 44, on Sept. 11. He had worked at Carr Futures on the 92nd floor of the World Trade Center.
Still, the mother of 12-year-old twins said she could understand why Camp America, which had space for 300 youngsters, and similar programs ended up with vacancies this summer. She knows all too well how hard it is for grieving parents to part with their children, even briefly.
More than 200 residential and day camps across the U.S., including Mah-kee-Nac, offered a total of 800 free spaces to the children of Sept. 11 victims in a program the American Camping Association plans to continue for the next 17 years.
They got only 100 takers this summer with most of the youngsters going to a scattering of day camps in the New York suburbs, said Brian Scholl, director of the ACA's New York division.
"Our hope is that as the program continues and families become more comfortable that there will be an increase in demand," Scholl said. "Camp is a very nurturing and healing environment."
Friedman's twins, Daniel and Michael, were eager to return to Camp Mah-kee-Nac this week for Camp America, but she said it had been "very difficult" when they left for an earlier session.
"I didn't want to be alone. And they didn't want to leave me," she said. "My sons were scared something would happen to me if they went away."
To ease their fears the camp arranged for Friedman to check in nightly by telephone so counselors could reassure the boys that Mom was OK.
"Within a week the boys had forgotten all about me," she laughed. "These kids really need to get away from the newspapers and the stupid TV showing all the bad news every 15 minutes and get a chance to just be kids."
"It's really been terrific for them," she said. "I can understand the reluctance, but it's a little selfish on the side of the parents. These kids need a break. They've had a really bad year."
The children have touched the hearts of this little mountain town, a 2.5-hour drive from New York City.
Everything from food to linens has been donated by local businesses, said Larry Levy, president of the Twin Towers Fund, launched by former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.
Starting with a send-off by the New York Mets at Shea Stadium, the campers will get special visits to the Tanglewood Music Festival, the Norman Rockwell Museum and a host of other local attractions.
Several sports and other stars, including Basketball Hall of Famer Nate Archibald, former New York Giant linebacker Harry Carsons and former Yankee pitcher Jim Bouton, are working free at the camp teaching the youngsters the games they know best.
"It's an honor," Bouton, who lives in nearby Egremont, told the Berkshire Record.
Local police and firefighters are providing security to both ease parents concerns and protect the youngsters privacy. Reporters are barred.
"Our focus is on the children," Levy said. "We want to give them a chance to be children."