LENOX >> The residents of Berkshire County played an important role in the lives of the children of Sept. 11, 2001. The directors of two Berkshire County camps, Camp Mah-Kee-Nac on Stockbridge Bowl, and Camp Danbee in Peru, along with the directors of other camps in their consortium invited the children who lost one or more parents in the attack on the World Trade Towers to come to the Berkshires for one week of camp in August 2002.
These were the children of firemen, policemen, window washers, airline passengers and crews — anyone whose life was lost in the attack. For this one week, the camp was renamed: America's Camp. From 2002 to 2006, the children were in Stockbridge. From 2007 to 2011, Camp Danbee was the site. That first summer, 79 children came to Camp Mah-Kee-Nac. Five years later, as the success of the camp was recognized by the families, the number grew to 285 and the numbers kept growing.
I became the liaison between the camp and the community. There was not one institution or individual in this community who, when asked to help bring smiles to sad faces, refused or asked for any remuneration.
The list of those who came to the camps or invited the children to come to their institution is legion. Former New York Yankees pitcher Jim Bouton came several summers and pitched a game for the kids. He even won the hearts, if not the minds, of the Boston Red Sox fans.
Peter Alvarez, hair stylist from Lenox, came every year with his team to do hair and nails. Jane Iredale of Iredale Cosmetics sent one of her team with supplies to give makeup lessons. Dan Mazursky of SoCo Ice Cream supplied all the treats for the weekend picnic. Joan and Richard Mears, owners of Whistler's Inn, supplied two rooms for Hollywood visitors, and, when the Red Lion Inn heard rooms were needed, it called and offered whatever else might be needed.
Tom Ricardi, who rehabs birds of prey, came with an American eagle and an owl and delighted the children with his hands-on talk. Jacob's Pillow sent a hip-hop teacher. The Rockwell Museum invited the children and gave them gifts. Off-duty policemen came to guard the entrance and exit to the camps, and the State Police showed off their rescue dogs to amazement of the kids. Kripalu sent a yoga teacher to relieve the stress of the councilors and the therapists. For 10 summers. The Berkshire community showed up and willingly gave of its time and expertise.
The first years were heartbreaking. In the bunks one night a child said to a bunk mate, "We got back my father's little finger. Did you get more than that?" Years later, when babies who were in utero on 9/11, became seven and came to camp, one said to a bunk mate, "I heard that a plane flew into the buildings. Did you ever hear that story?" The kids could ask and say anything they wanted at camp. The Council for Grieving Children in Maine came very summer, and were on call 24/7.
Art work lives on
Each year, the children did a community art work. When the Rockwell Museum was asked to mount an exhibit of this incredible work, they readily agreed. Jan Ramirez, who had just been appointed chief curator of what would become the 9/11 Monument and Museum, was invited to see the exhibit. She arrived with her curator of education and after a brief discussion they agreed to take all the art work to New York and it would be exhibited in the next change of their collection. What was created here in the Berkshires is now part of American history.
Even though camp came to a close in 2011, the kids (kids? — some are now in their mid-20s) still have a reunion every year in New York City. This year, they insisted that the reunion be held where it all began — in Stockbridge. We have found that the children who came to camp have fared better in life than those who didn't, largely avoiding trouble with drugs and the law.
America's Camp was kept under the radar, so many people in the Berkshires didn't even know it took place. Oprah Winfrey wanted to come, but the camp directors said "no way"! No publicity. Brittany Spears came and donated to the scholarship fund. America's Camp raised a great deal of money. Any child wanting to attend an accredited four-year college was given full tuition. One fireman's six children have all graduated from college.
It is now time that all our wonderful Berkshire citizens know how truly giving this area is. Henry Wordsworth Longfellow might well say that "The murmuring pines and the hemlocks, bearded in moss and in garments green " probably had something to do with it.