For more than a decade, waves of youths from the close-knit community of Floral Park have been drawn to work at the shores of Camp Anchor.
As sibling followed sibling and friend followed friend, a bond developed between the Lido Beach camp and the village, community leaders say.
Today, nearly half of the youths who work at the Town of Hempstead-run facility for special-needs children hail from Floral Park, said camp coordinator Joe Lentini.
Three of them - Jamie Malone, 22, her sister Paige, 19, and Michael Mulhall, 22 - had been at the camp, first as volunteers then as counselors, since they were 14. On Thursday, the Malone sisters and Mulhall died when the car they were riding in veered off the Meadowbrook State Parkway and hit a tree.
Community leaders say Floral Park's youths are drawn to helping children with special needs, partly because it's how their older siblings and friends spent their summers.
"It's just handed down from brother to sister to friends," said Floral Park Mayor Kevin Greene.
The camp's popularity among Floral Park teens began about 13 years ago, Lentini said, with volunteers inspiring younger kids in the neighborhood to work there.
Over the years, Floral Park Memorial High School's Key Club adviser has watched her students gravitate toward volunteering at Camp Anchor.
"Camp Anchor and Floral Park High School are always intertwined," said club adviser Patricia Mangan, whose own son worked at the camp for six years. "I knew every single one of those young people who were in the car."
She said she taught the Malone sisters and Mulhall in junior high, before they went on to Catholic high schools. "These were altruistic young people," Mangan said. "I would see them in church every Sunday."
The Rev. Bruno Dekrem, associate pastor of Our Lady of Victory Catholic Church, where the funeral Masses will be held, said the Floral Park-Camp Anchor connection shows the community's generosity.
"To see many kids here working for Anchor . . . that's really amazing," Dekrem said. "Anchor is the Christian symbol for hope. I think now we have to be anchored in hope."
Patrick Murphy, the father of Kelly Murphy, who survived the crash, reflected Friday on the camp's connection with Floral Park. "They grew up together, went to school together, worked at the camp together," he said.
It's not clear exactly how the bond with Anchor began, but that older volunteers have spread the word, said Ann Corbett, former Floral Park mayor.
Megan Lowe, 20, was an Anchor volunteer for three summers after hearing about the camp from classmates at Floral Park Memorial High School.
"I knew a boy in town who has an autistic brother," she said. "I guess it's because it's a small town and word gets around pretty quickly."
Lowe, who was a Girl Scout with Paige Malone and was in the same volunteer group as Mulhall, said her time at Anchor inspired her to pursue a career helping others: speech pathology. She is a junior at Stony Brook University.
The impact that camp has on its young volunteers and counselors was evident to Town of Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray, who met with them Friday morning. "You could tell etched on their faces they had such grief," she said, yet they continued to push campers around in wheelchairs and do other routine camp duties. "I was so tremendously proud of them."
She could also see the tradition of Floral Park youth working there: "The family roots and family ties in this camp community adds to the closeness."
With Matthew Chayes
and Evan Klonsky