Bashir Abdul-Hameed writes about the murder of his father from an emotional distance.
His father was the "loved one" lost to gun violence in an essay by the 11-year-old.
"I don't think people should use guns or bad words to deal with their problems," Bashir wrote. "I think they should talk their problems out."
The West Philadelphia sixth grader was contemplating the violence that changed his life and led him to 600 pastoral acres in Chester County.
Bashir is one of 300 children affected by violence who retreat to the countryside for six days of fun away from the clamor of the city. It is quiet and green at the annual Keep Kids Safe Summer Camp. The activities are fun-filled, but the goal of the program is serious.
The camp aims to help youngsters develop social and coping skills that will help them make sound decisions at home and school and in their neighborhoods. Mixed in with the swimming, basketball, and nature walks are team-building exercises and play therapy.
The goal is to affect "attitudes on violence and reactions to conflict and even get campers to think differently about their futures," said Farrah Samuels, youth division director of the Greater Philadelphia Urban Affairs Coalition (GPUAC), which runs the camp. "Some don't even see themselves living past 21."
The camp was founded six years ago, after 10-year-old Faheem Thomas-Childs was shot and killed in front of Peirce School in West Philadelphia. The program initially targeted Philadelphia youngsters who had lost relatives to violence, but now is open to city youths who have been "impacted or affected" by violence. Applicants must write an essay describing how violence in their community has affected them.
J. Whyatt Mondesire, president of the Philadelphia branch of the NAACP, proposed the idea. Six years later, organizations such as camp co-managers Nu Sigma Youth Services and the Philadelphia Anti-Drug/Anti-Violence Network have taken on major roles.
Other partners include the two campsites that host the program participants, Paradise Farm Camps in Downingtown and Diamond Ridge Camps in Jamison.
Since its founding, the program has hosted more than 700 children. Three hundred youngsters, ages 9 to 13, are attending two six-day sessions this month.
The camp's future, though, is in doubt because of the Pennsylvania budget impasse.
The camp is funded primarily by Blueprint for a Safer Philadelphia, an antiviolence initiative funded by the state. Funding for the initiative has been eliminated in current versions of the state budget, said Sharmain Matlock-Turner, president of GPUAC, which helps manage the antiviolence initiative.
"The outlook is not good, and we don't know where things will end up," Matlock-Turner said.
The camp is free to participating families, and costs $800 per child to fund. In addition to Blueprint for a Safer Philadelphia, funding comes from private donations and contributions from other charities such as the Patricia Kind Family Foundation. The Inquirer is a cosponsor.
Preparing for the worst, GPUAC is stepping up its fund-raising efforts. If the camp is to continue, that might be its only hope.
Camp organizers say they realize it will take more than six days to have a lasting impact on the campers.
The program includes efforts to link participants and their families to camp-sponsoring agencies throughout the year.
"A lot of it is social," said Brandon Brown, a director at Nu Sigma Youth Services and a program manager at the camps. "It's how to talk to each other; how to deal with frustration, disappointment, and anger."
Bashir calls his six days "a great experience." His mother, Basheerah Abdul-Hameed, says her son is starting to emerge from what she describes as a small depression that followed his father's death. Grades that plummeted are improving, she said, and his attitude has brightened.
Bashir says that he has had such a good time that he's going to tell other children about the camp and "try to inspire them to come."