Camp retreat for children of 9/11 victims
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"Give me hugs and kisses," said the teenage sisters' mother, Janlyn Scauso, 50, of Melville. The girls clung to her before clambering onto the bus.
The two were going to camp, but not to a typical summer retreat. The sisters were among 13 local teens -- each of whom lost a parent in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks -- headed to Project Common Bond in Massachusetts. There, they will join 75 other young adults from across the United States and 14 other countries who have lost a parent to terrorism.
"When I first got there, people came up to me and they hugged me," says Juliette Scauso, 15, who also went last year. "They kind of just 'get it' . . . there was a common bond."
This is the camp's fifth year. Created by the nonprofit group Tuesday's Children, it focuses on peace-building and conflict resolution and uses a "dignity" curriculum model designed by Donna Hicks, a professor at Harvard University's Weatherhead Center for International Affairs.
The curriculum asks participants, "What can you do to regain your dignity and to express how your dignity was violated . . . in a nonviolent way?" director Kathy Murphy said. "We're teaching them that we are all peace-builders."
That lesson is significant for students from countries with a history of conflict, such as Palestine and Israel. In a group discussion, "Somebody may say, 'The Israelis killed my father or my uncle,' " Murphy said. "And then you have an Israeli young man lean forward . . . and say, 'I want you to understand that that's not me or my family' . . . It's powerful."
Gabrielle Scauso, 17, whose father, Dennis Scauso, 46, of Dix Hills, was a member of the FDNY's Hazmat 1 unit in Queens, said the retreat has increased her global awareness.
"You just get a more worldly perspective, where you kind of realize that these things don't just happen where I live," she said. "They happen everywhere."
New to Project Common Bond this year are participants from Algeria, France, Morocco, Nigeria and Pakistan. Partner groups including Women Without Borders help to screen international attendees and assist in procuring paperwork, Murphy said, adding that applicants must submit essays.
Families pay about $1,500 per participant and Project Common Bond offsets the balance of the roughly $4,000 cost for each, marketing manager Kelly Keesler said. Donors help pay for those who have financial difficulty, Keesler said.
The retreat's benefits are invaluable, said Beth Murphy, 48, whose son Connor is attending for the third consecutive year. (The Murphys are not related to the camp's director.)
"I saw more an ability to talk about what happened," she said, sitting across from him Wednesday in their Northport backyard. "I think it's a gift through tragedy that we received."
For Connor Murphy, 18, playing soccer with teens from Spain has been a highlight. It was the sport that his father -- Kevin Murphy, 40, who worked at Marsh & McLennan, on the 100th floor of the north tower -- taught him as a child.
"This camp, you have to realize, it's going to be emotional," he said, referring to occasions when teenagers share memories of their parents. "In the past, I've seen people who have cried. Myself, I have cried at times."
In addition to such small group discussion sessions, the teenagers participate in "peace in action" projects, a flash-mob dance and a talent show.
This year, he has company at the camp: his sister, Caitlyn, 15, who is attending for the first time.
"He's told me it's a safe place to talk," Caitlyn Murphy said. "When I go to school sometimes and I see kids with their parents, I feel like I'm kind of missing out on something."
Also boarding the bus Thursday was Matthew Jordan, 16, of Westhampton, whose firefighter father, Andrew Jordan, 36, died at the World Trade Center with five others from Brooklyn's Ladder Company 132. Encircling the teen's wrist was a white rubber bracelet, a memento he has worn daily since he got it at camp last year.
"DIGNITY," read bold letters on the bracelet. "WE CAN ALL DO BETTER."