For eight months after superstorm Sandy, Kaitlyn Hartman and her classmates from West Elementary school in Long Beach were shuffled around neighboring elementary schools. They often shared classrooms with other classes while their school underwent reconstruction from the storm damage, she said.
She was also displaced for a month after her grandmother’s home took on water in the basement where most of Kaitlyn’s family lived.
But as summer began, Kaitlyn had something to look forward to — spending two weeks at Camp DeWolfe in Wading River with her best friend 9-year-old Mikayla Smith.
“It makes me so happy to be here with Mikayla because I’ve never done anything like this before,” said Kaitlyn, 10. “It’s nice to play and swim after what we went through.”
Kaitlyn and Mikayla were among the 10 Long Island children, ages 8-12, to attend the Christian sleepaway camp free of charge as part of Episcopal Charities of Long Island and American Campers Association-New York, New Jersey’s project “Heal the Children.”
Her father James Hartman said the West Elementary school social worker recommended the family apply for a $1,190 grant to send his daughter to the sleepaway camp last May.
“I was nervous because my daughter had never been away from us before, but since I’ve been struggling to find a job, I couldn’t pay for her to attend camp,” he said. “This is a blessing that she can now go and be busy with her friend and enjoy her summer.”
On Long Island, six children from Mastic, Long Beach, Freeport, The Rockaways, and Massapequa were chosen for sessions at the camp. Five other children from Brooklyn, Staten Island and Queens were also chosen.
The program, initially created in response to the terrorist attacks on 9/11, provides free one- or two-week summer camp sessions to children suffering great loss.
The camp’s executive director, Matthew Tees, said this week and next week there are 60 campers that will swim, sail, learn archery, kayak, canoe, climb, play beach volleyball and sing songs and play games around a campfire.
The campgrounds were also affected by the storm, with 15 downed trees, punctured roofs, and an eroded cliff. Tees said after repairing damages, the staff felt all the more charitable toward welcoming kids affected by Sandy.
“A $17,850 grant helps us welcome 15 campers for free this summer,” he said. “These kids have gone through a traumatic experience at home, so this gives us a chance to give them a distraction and a summer camp experience they’ll never forget.”
So far, Mikayla’s favorite part of camp was building boats out of cardboard and flotation devices that they could race across the pool on Monday afternoon.
“We’ve been having lots of fun here,” she said.
Her mother, Tammy Smith, said their apartment building on East Broadway, two blocks from the ocean, was so damaged by the storm it was condemned. The family shuffled around from hotel to hotel for months before finding a new place to live in Long Beach.
“It was so hard on Mikayla moving around like that,” she said. “It was a blessing that after everything we went through my daughter got to go to camp. I’m so grateful.”