Homeless children romp through rural weekend

June 20, 1993|By Mark Guidera | Mark Guidera,Staff Writer

DAMASCUS -- The dog-day heat didn't slow 7-year-old Nicole a bit yesterday.

She was among the first to barrel into the cool waters of the pond here at Camp Friendship, then scramble aboard a canoe for a paddle around the pond. After a scoot around the pond with three other girls and a camp counselor, Nicole disembarked, beaming.

"I like that the best," she exclaimed. "I want to do it again!"

Earlier, she had cavorted on the playground equipment nestled in a woodsy area, gobbled down pizza and sipped Kool-Aid.

Nicole, who is staying at the Grassroots shelter in Columbia, was among some 30 children, ages 7 to 14, from transitional family shelters in Baltimore and Columbia. The children had been invited to spend yesterday and today at the camp by Children's Ark Inc., a Columbia-based, nonprofit organization that helps children in need, particularly those from homeless families.

The organization arranged the weekend event with The Carol Jean Cancer Foundation Inc., the owner of this Montgomery County camp.

"This sure beats being in Baltimore. It's nice out here, and there's lots to do. At home, there's nothing to do," said Jerry, 14, who stays in a West Baltimore shelter.

"It's dangerous where I live. In my neighborhood, you can't even play basketball. The drug dealers are out on the courts all the time. Here, I don't have to worry about that at all," said Jerry, whose last name, like those of others quoted in this article, is being withheld at the request of camp organizers.

"This is fantastic," said Laurie Day, a Columbia resident who founded Children's Ark in April 1991 and now serves as its president.

"I visited the shelters where these kids are staying, and some of them seemed withdrawn and unhappy," said Ms. Day, watching children dart between four cabins. "But here, just look at them. They're able to let go and be kids."

She said she hopes to expand Children's Ark's efforts, calling the weekend camp visit "a starter for a larger vision."

"In the future," she said, "I'd like us to have our own house or camp or maybe even school, where kids in need could come and stay and get some healing. A weekend in the woods is not enough to break the cycle of pain some of these kids are experiencing."

Steve Washington, a child and adolescent program coordinator for two West Baltimore transitional shelters, Rutland and Springhill, said the weekend camp exposes the children to the countryside and cultural diversity.

"A lot of these kids have never been outside the city at all," he said. "So, it's really educational in the respect they get to see insects, animals and birds they've never seen before, plus they experience spending time with people who have different cultural backgrounds than they do."

The camp offered a whole lot more than a chance to splash around in the pond and take canoe rides, understandably the most popular events. The children also took nature walks, heard a rap band, performed funny skits around a roaring campfire and got a chance to stay in a cabin last night.

Meredith Reynolds, a Frederick resident who volunteered to help with the camp, came prepared to send the children home with mementos.

She rounded up boxes of colorful craft ribbon, paints, sequin confetti, greeting card-style picture frames, an instant camera and lots of donated film. Ms. Reynolds planned to take a snapshot of each child, then have the youngsters decorate the frames for individual keepsakes.

"I like the idea of a souvenir from camp. Everybody will take home good memories, but a souvenir can help you remember them," said Ms. Reynolds.

The project proved a hit with the children, many of whom hammed it up on the playground set for their snapshots or hugged their best pals.

David and Anthony, two 10-year-olds, put off taking a cool dip until they had finished decorating the frames for their snapshots.

David had his picture taken with Anthony. On the outside of the card, he used colorful markers to write his name and gold glitter paint to give it some pizazz. Beneath the photograph he drew a bright red heart.

"We're best friends," said David. "This I'm keeping."

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