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Coping at Ground Zero

Across the street from Ground Zero are offices of Lutheran Disaster Response of New York's (LDRNY) Comfort and Renew Center.

BY HEATHER MOYER | NEW YORK CITY | September 11, 2004

"Seeing the kids and counselors grow from year to year has been great."

—Rev. Ann Tiemeyer

Across the street and 20 stories up from the pit of Ground Zero are the offices of the Lutheran Disaster Response of New York (LDRNY) Comfort and Renew Center.

Several agencies share the space, and three years after the Sept. 11 attacks, all are still busy responding.

One agency, Koinonia NYC, hosted another season of its New Ground Day Camps this summer, a program modeled after Lutheran Disaster Response's Camp Noah aimed at helping kids aged 6 to 13 who have experienced disasters.

The New Ground Day Camps taught the tools of coping emotionally after a disaster to 794 kids at churches in all five boroughs of New York City.

"Our partnership with the Lutheran Counseling Center (LCC) made it very special this year," said Rev. Ann Tiemeyer, director of Koinonia NYC. "We taught the kids the tools they need for life, some of which may not have been in place before the disaster."

A total of 30 weeks of programming was done this summer for the camps, which are each generally one to two weeks long. A local mental health counselor from LCC was present at each site, an aspect Tiemeyer said was helpful in case referrals or other special care was necessary for some of the kids.

Tiemeyer added that she was happy that the campers were even more diverse this year than in past years, thanks in part to extra funding that allowed them to move into more ethnic and economically-distressed neighborhoods around the city. "We're sensitive to the diversity of the kids, some of them are not Christian. We even went to a church that reaches out to African immigrants, some of which come from war-torn countries."

Some of the kids have been campers for more than one year. The same goes for some of the college-aged counselors who help run the program. "Seeing the kids and counselors grow from year to year has been great," said Tiemeyer.

And all the congregations involved appreciate New Ground's work as well. "They really enjoy the chance to reach out more in their communities, and we hope it plants a seed for those churches to continue doing more outreach."

Yet the New Ground Day Camps aren't the only thing keeping Tiemeyer and Koinonia NYC busy these days. Two other projects are helping people explore their emotions as well as serve their communities.

The Ground Zero Faith Walks are open to any group wishing for an illustration of how the events of 9/11 and its aftermath have created an opportunity for the church to witness the power of Christ-centered community in the face of human-caused disaster. Those on the faith walks receive a guided tour of the Ground Zero and lower Manhattan area as well as a chance to visit the Koinonia NYC offices to hear and discuss stories of recovery and hope.

The faith walks just started up this summer, said Tiemeyer, but already some 350 people have been a part of them. "One of the great benefits of the program is hearing personal stories," she said. "I'm also surprised to see how far the connections go, and it really helps the healing process."

This summer also saw the beginning of the Servant Events and the Servant Community. The Servent Events are a way for volunteers to spend a week working around New York City while also learning more and experiencing the reality of 9/11 around Lower Manhattan. "There was a tremendous growth in volunteerism after 9/11, so this is our way of continuing to honor that spirit," explained Tiemeyer, who added that six groups had already participated this summer.

The Servant Community is a yearlong volunteer project for people fresh out of college, similar to the Lutheran Volunteer Corps programs in other U.S. cities, but with its own dynamics. These volunteers split their work time between the Koinonia Wilderness Camp outside the city and ministries within the city limits. The first crew of volunteers started this summer, and Tiemeyer said she hopes it expands even more next year.

Just because the summer is coming to a close doesn't mean Tiemeyer is taking a break, either. Getting all the various Koinonia NYC projects ready for next summer is a yearlong task, one she said she's happy to do because of the very visible benefits to all involved.

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