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Video: 9/11 camp for kids instills resilience

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    >>> as the tenth anniversary of september 11th approach, we can't to get about the children, the kids of 9/11. today jenna bush hager spent a day with some of them at a very special camp. good morning.

    >> good morning, ann. these kids are incredible and with the help of the camp, they've grown up and groan stronger together. and they're proving to be heros in their own right.

    >> reporter: faces of youth. radiant, hopeful, resilient. but behind these optimistic smiles lie recommend nabmnants of tragic loss when the twin towers fell, more than 2700 children had participantses w s who part parents who would never come home. ten years later, they're learning to heal but remember those they loved.

    >> his personality would change the way you think of anything.

    >> reporter: at america 's camp, a free nonprofit camp that started ten years ago for those who lost a parent on 9/11. they come to reflect and have some fun. a place of laughter. joy. and dancing. the father of 20-year-old caitlin , 17-year-old brittany, and 13-year-old timmy died on that fateful die.

    >> this was my father.

    >> reporter: but like many other camper, timmy was so young, that he only remembers his father by his family's stories.

    >> you were three on september 11th . so do you have memories of that day?

    >> not really. i don't have memories of him either. i just kind of know him by like pictures and videos.

    >> is that hard?

    >> yeah. it's kind of hard because they always tell like stories and i don't have stories like that.

    >> reporter: their mom, stacey, was skeptical about sending her children away that first summer after their father's death.

    >> caitlin wanted to stay home, caitlin wanted to stay close it me.

    >> reporter: but caitlin 's hesitation and fear didn't last long.

    >> you got off the bus and your counselors immediately swooped you you up and said come on, let's go have fun. that was the first time in a really long time that i actually felt comfortable, my local body got warm chills. that was the first week that i don't remember crying.

    >> reporter: a relief from the tears as these lost children met others just like them.

    >> they were not just the 9/11 kid. they were all the 9/11 kids. so they stood together as a group. brittany when she was seven cried and said but seven year olds aren't supposed to lose their daddy. and she's right. but there were meaplenty of others at this camp who also lost their daddy.

    >> reporter: a decade later, a place rooted in fun has led to a new kind of family.

    >> to see campers our very first summer, they were angry, terrified to be living home. but to see the kids just lighting up an just grow and n. to these unbelievable adults who are caring and loving and passionate and all they want to do now is help other kids.

    >> reporter: 60 of the original campers are now counselors and mentors.

    >> you can really relate to them. my campers are like us when i first came here, so it's looking at them, seeing how brave and strong that they are.

    >> reporter: labeled the kids of 9/11, they are so much more. and they carry on their parents' legacy with the hope of making the world a better place .

    >> i truly have no idea where i would be without it because you're forced to grow up so fast and you get to come here and you get to kind of let loose . and you don't have to be uptight and you don't have to shut the world out.

    >> america 's camp was a gift they were given -- sorry. as a parent, you want to fix everything. and there were so many aspects of 9/11 that i couldn't fix.

    >> reporter: tile by tile, they're rebuilding. with loss and hope, together forming a bond for brighter days ahead.

    >> like friends until the end. from something bad came something great.

    >> and we should mention that the america 's camp foundation is a legacy much the twin towers fund. many of the kids are now in college or have graduated and have jobs. so the camp has decided that with the ten year anniversary, its doors will be closing. the kids say they have bitter sweet feeling, but they will of course always stay close like a family.

    >> the camp has done its job and these kids can now go on and the relationships will likely last a long time to come. thanks so much, jenna.

    >>> coming up, much more, but

By Jenna Bush Hager
updated 9/8/2011 8:30:36 AM ET 2011-09-08T12:30:36
Correspondent's Notebook

We all remember that day. Where we were, who we were with; the images stay ingrained in our memory. Ten years ago, as the twin towers fell, our country lost so much, so many. But, for the kids who lost parents, their whole world was changed forever.

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These were mothers and fathers who on that clear-blue morning left for work, and would never come home. These were professionals, firemen and first responders, some who weren't scheduled to work but took the call to serve. These men and women were the epitome of service and all that is good in our country.

Video: 9/11 camp for kids instills resilience (on this page)

Ten years later, their kids have experienced many milestones: birthdays, graduations, first dates, proms. They have grown into teenagers, college students, caring adults. Many have learned to heal with the help of laughter and a bond with others who know the deep pain of loss.

America's Camp, a free camp for those that lost parents on 9/11, began ten years ago, in the wake of that tragedy. However, when we visited the camp in Massachusetts this August we were greeted, not by sadness, but by laughter and the warmth of family.

The 190 kids, the majority now teenagers, and counselors at the camp are bonded by ten years of summers spent dancing, having fun and remembering.

Story: Five must-read books about 9/11 and its legacy

I met 12 year-old Timmy, who had been entering his first day of pre-school on September 11th, 2001. His father, Sergeant Timothy Roy, took the day off to pick his son up from school. But, Sergeant Roy got a call that morning and reported for duty. He never came home to pick up Timmy. Timmy doesn't remember much about his father, but at camp, he loves to share the few memories he has. "He kind of would brighten the mood of anything that would happen," he told me. For Timmy and his two older sisters, this one week in August has become a time to reflect, but also a time to heal and move on. What impressed me most about this 12-year-old was his compassion for others. Timmy says camp isn't just about remembering his dad; it's also about helping others with their pain as well. "America's camp is to remember everyone who (was) lost. Cause you know, it's not just you; it's everyone else that you have to help support."

Story: Rebuilding a life in the wake of September 11th

They were labeled "the kids of 9/11," but they are so much more and many refuse to be defined by that day. Encouraged by the memories of the ones they lost, they told me they live to make their parents proud and to make a difference. They said that this camp, a place where they could come to heal, was a gift. Spending the day with these amazing kids was a true gift. The camp has decided that on this 10-year anniversary, it will be closing its doors.

But the strength of these kids and their desire to make our world a place of peace will live on.

© 2012 MSNBC Interactive.  Reprints

Photos: Remains of the day

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  1. Nancy Nee, George's sister

    A heavily dented and damaged mass hardly recognizable as the helmet it once was. Thinking about how powerful the destructive force must have been still makes her lose her breath. “George was such a tall, strong man’,’ says Nancy Nee. And yet looking at the black relic brings her a certain measure of peace. Her brother George Cain was a firefighter to the core and the helmet was an integral part of his life. On Sept. 11, George helped evacuate hundreds of guests from the Marriott Hotel, close to the World Trade Center. When the towers collapsed, he did not stand a chance. The hotel was destroyed, but most of the guests survived. To this day, her children miss their uncle very much, says Nancy. She still hasn’t shown her two youngest the helmet.

    Captions by Giuseppe di Grazia and Martin Knobbe / stern Magazine
    Translation by Anuschka Tomat (Henry Leutwyler / Contour by Getty Images for stern Magazine) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Myrta Gschaar, Robert’s Wife

    Maybe he did manage to get out of the South Tower after all. Maybe he is wandering around not knowing who he is. For years, these thoughts haunted Myrta Gschaar. She did not abandon hope, until the day authorities informed her that her husband’s wallet had been recovered. When she went to the police station to pick it up, she saw the two-dollar bill. Myrta Gschaar felt dizzy and the policemen needed to keep her from falling. It was one of the two-dollar bills with which Robert had proposed to Myrta. They had promised each other to always carry theirs with them. When Myrta had recovered, she placed the slightly charred note next to her undamaged one. She moved them toward each other as if they were about to kiss for the last time. Or the first. (Henry Leutwyler / Contour by Getty Images for stern Magazine) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Bradley Burlingame, Charles’ brother

    The poem’s words are still clearly legible: “Don’t stand at my grave crying. I am not here. I did not die.” This sentence was printed on the reverse side of the funeral card for Patricia Burlingame. Her son Charles always carried it with him, just as he did on the day that terrorists hijacked the plane he was flying. Flight AA 77 crashed into the Pentagon near Washington, D.C., at 9:37 am. Sixty-four people on the plane and 125 more inside the building died. Knowing that his brother had the funeral card on him is a comforting thought for Brad Burlingame. Just as comforting, that he likely died a hero. The flight data analysis showed that 30 minutes after takeoff, the air carrier suddenly started an erratic flight pattern. For Brad, it indicates a struggle in the cockpit. “Charles was a former Navy pilot. He defended his plane and his passengers until the very end.” (Henry Leutwyler / Contour by Getty Images for stern Magazine) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Erich Bay, Lorraine’s husband

    Lorraine Bay was supposed to be back home from her United Airlines flight on Wednesday night. On the evening of Sept. 12th, the flight attendant planned to celebrate her husband's birthday. Half a year later in their house, Erich found the presents Lorraine had bought for him: two shirts and two belts. It took Erich a long time before he mustered the strength to enter Lorraine’s room. And it took him even longer before he was able to open the box that contained her belongings that had been recovered from the area where her plane crashed in Pennsylvania. In it, he found a pair of sandals Lorraine had packed for the late summer weather. Her wedding band was slightly melted and it was missing a stone. The ring remains Erich’s most important memento of his wife. He gave Lorraine’s earrings to one of his nieces, but he will keep the wedding band until he dies. (Henry Leutwyler / Contour by Getty Images for stern Magazine) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Joseph and Samia Iskandar, Waleed’s parents

    Three frequent flyer cards and a debit card are all that remained of their son. Recovery workers at Ground Zero found neither his body nor any parts of it Thus, the parents placed the four cards along with a photo of their son in a niche in the San Fernando Mission Cemetery in Los Angeles. The plastic is the only remembrance of the last day of Waleed Iskandar's life. The youngest of three children, he was born in Lebanon and raised in Kuwait. He graduated from Stanford and Harvard. In his job as a consultant and in his leisure time with his girlfriend, Nicolette, he flew more than 400,000 miles a year. He was sitting in the window seat in row 34 when the plane crashed into the North tower. His parents, Joseph and Samia Iskandar, hope that maybe “he did not exactly know what was going on in the cockpit.” (Henry Leutwyler / Contour by Getty Images for stern Magazine) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Nelly Braginsky, Alexander’s mother

    Alexander Braginsky had immediately accepted an invitation by his employer, the news agency Reuters, to an 8:30 am business breakfast at Windows on the World on the 106th floor of the World Trade Center. Fifteen minutes later, a Boeing 767 crashed into the North Tower. “If he had only stayed in his office, if he had only been less keen on learning new things,” says his mother. Braginsky, however, wanted to know everything and he happily shared his knowledge. On the evening of the day he died, he was scheduled to hold a lecture in front of immigrants. He himself was an immigrant, who came to the U.S. from Odessa, Ukraine, when he was 15 years old. Ever since, he had helped others navigate the exciting metropolis of New York. For a long time, the wallet had been the only memory of her son that Nelly Braginsky could hold in her hands. Just this past April, she learned that a bone fragment had been found. Finally, she was able to bury Alexander. (Henry Leutwyler / Contour by Getty Images for stern Magazine) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Betzy Parks, Robert's sister

    To his sister, he was the man who wrote letters. He sent her a greeting card when she graduated from High School. He sent her encouraging words when she left for England to pursue her studies and later when she traveled Europe. Writing letters was his way of showing his affection. Thus, Betzy Parks knew immediately that she had found the perfect gift for her brother Robert when she spotted a silvery letter opener in a bazaar in Mexico in 1991. He had kept it on his desk ever since and he took it with him when he started working as a bond broker for Cantor Fitzgerald on the 105th floor of the World Trade Center. There, the father of two teenagers was known as a wizard with numbers. He knew almost every movement of the stock market since 1929 by heart, as well as every home run the New York Yankees ever made. On Sept. 11th, 2001, Cantor Fitzgerald lost 658 of the 1,000 employees in its York headquarters. (Henry Leutwyler / Contour by Getty Images for stern Magazine) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Sonia Tita Puopolo, Sonia Morales Puopolo's daughter

    When Sonia Tita Puopolo received a call almost one year after the attacks on 9/11, informing her that rescue workers had recovered her mother’s left hand with the wedding ring still on it, she did not know whether to laugh or cry. The ring, of all things! It was the symbol of the great love between Sonia Morales Puopolo and her husband, Dominic. It remained almost intact. Every diamond was in its right place. “For me it is a symbol of hope despite all the sadness,” says her daughter. Today, Sonia Tita Puopolo wears the ring just as her father wished. She even wrote a book about the ring. The Puopolos were a generous couple. They made donations to a number of causes: the Democratic Party, gay rights groups, AIDS and cancer programs. On Sept. 11, the mother of three children was on her way to visit her son Mark Anthony. She was on the first plane that slammed into the towers. (Henry Leutwyler / Contour by Getty Images for stern Magazine) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Barbara Spence, Maynard’s wife

    In April 2002, recovery workers found the first body parts belonging to Maynard Spence, pieces of organs and fragments of his bones. His wife, Barbara, didn't want to see them. Together with Maynard’s daughters from his first marriage, Barbara decided to cremate everything. She spread Maynard's ashes over his favorite mountain in North Carolina. Barbara wanted to remember Maynard as this tall man with a vibrant laugh, as the man who penned her short love letters. Yet, today the most important love note is the one she herself wrote, scribbled on one of those notepads lying around in hotels. Maynard, from Atlanta, had this note on him when he visited the New York branch of the insurance company he worked for. “Hey Lover Boy – hope you have a wonderful day! I’ll be thinking of you! Love Babs.” Four years ago, she got a tattoo above her heart. It features a yellow rose, a hummingbird and the date 9/11, and will forever connect her to Maynard. (Henry Leutwyler / Contour by Getty Images for stern Magazine) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Alison Crowther, Welles’ mother

    He was the man with the red bandanna, an accessory he had adopted from his grandfather. He wore the bandanna on this morning at the Trade Center, high above the southern tip of Manhattan. Welles Crowther survived the initial impact of the plane. Shortly thereafter, he called his father. It was the last that was heard from him. Months later, his mother, Alison, read an article in which witnesses recounted how they were rescued from a smoky stairwell by a man whose nose and mouth were covered by a red bandanna. Six months after the attack, rescue workers found Welles’ body under a shattered staircase. The time on his wristwatch, a Citizen Chronograph WR 200, had stopped at 2:25. The red bandanna was not recovered.

    Captions by Giuseppe di Grazia and Martin Knobbe / stern Magazine
    Translation by Anuschka Tomat (Henry Leutwyler / Contour by Getty Images for stern Magazine) Back to slideshow navigation
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