Students, host families prep for N.Y. firefighters, families | AspenTimes.com

Students, host families prep for N.Y. firefighters, families

Jennifer Davoren
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Aspen Country Day School students are spending this week preparing for the arrival of 19 families of New York firefighters affected by Sept. 11.

Kids to Kids, a joint venture between the school and A Grassroots Aspen Experience, is still organizing activities for the 72 visitors expected to arrive in Aspen on Sunday. The group has put together a full week of activities for the families in what will be their first vacation since the terrorist attacks.

Organization for the weeklong getaway has picked up significantly since December, when a group of ACDS students and Grassroots organizers made the trip to New York to meet the families they intended to invite. Kids to Kids chairperson Carmen Kobacker said the group first met firefighter Richard Picciotto, one of the “Miracle Seven” who managed to survive the World Trade Center collapse after becoming trapped in the rubble. Picciotto then served as tour guide for the Kids to Kids delegation.

They saw the hole where the towers once stood, and toured the spot where Picciotto and his crew were trapped beneath tons of concrete and steel. The group was even able to visit restricted areas to talk to rescue workers and firefighters still digging through the rubble.

“After we went to New York to meet with Richard Picciotto, we met a lot of the rescue workers,” Kobacker said. “It was really a very moving experience. They invited us to come to St. Paul’s Chapel, which is the shelter set up for emergency workers … it was very moving and very special.”

The children were especially moved by their meetings with those who managed to survive the Sept. 11 attacks. Kids to Kids was created for the benefit of the families of fallen firefighters, and the group originally intended to bring 20 groups of widows and their children to Colorado. However, after their trip to Ground Zero, the students now hoped to also help the exhausted firefighters they met during their trip.

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“We realized they probably needed this break to come to Aspen even more than the widows’ families,” Kobacker said. “As it stands now, we have 19 families coming – half are widows with their children, and the other half are firefighters and their families.”

Picciotto, who will be spending the next two weeks in Aspen with his wife and son, helped the ACDS students get in contact with each of the 19 visiting families. Nearly half of those families include women and children who lost loved ones in the World Trade Center collapse; the other half consist of those who lost friends and colleagues.

The ACDS host families are happy with the mix and looking forward to meeting their guests, Kobacker said.

The newly added New York families seem to be just as excited about the getaway, since vacation time has been sacrificed during the Trade Center cleanup effort.

“One of the wives said that the best thing about going away on vacation was that her children will finally be able to have breakfast and dinner with their father,” Kobacker said.

Between the ski lessons and speeches, visiting families will have a full schedule during their week in Aspen. The week will start Sunday with the families’ arrival at the Eagle County Regional Airport and their drive to Aspen to meet their hosts. On Monday, they will receive ski clothing to use for the week – all 72 New Yorkers will receive a jacket purchased by the Aspen Youth Center’s Service Works Program and Aspen Middle School.

The rest of the week is filled with snowmobile trips, special presentations at ACDS and meetings with a grateful community, Kobacker said.

Country Day students will be just as busy as they spend the week entertaining their new friends. Kids of all ages, from prekindergarten up to eighth grade, have pitched in with organization duties. Younger children, for example, will sing “Getting To Know You” during an orientation breakfast, while the fourth grade wrote letters to help raise funding for the New Yorkers’ vacation.

And Kids to Kids could use further assistance from sponsors. Denise Sanchez of A Grassroots Experience said the Aspen host families are planning a trip to Brewster, New York, in August for a similar week of activities.

“It will be the reverse of this week,” Sanchez said of the trip. “A big focus for Grassroots is follow-up. Everyone involved is really excited about the program, and we want to continue that relationship and not make it such a one-shot deal.”

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