Amityville-based KiDS NEED MoRE is a non-profit that has provided children who are going through a serious illness or trauma along with their families a place to go where they can forget about their troubles for a while and have fun. Every summer they host camps either right here on Long Island or in Upstate New York. But, like many other organizations and local companies they’re finding coronavirus upending their usual way of doing business and have had to adapt.
“As soon as this all happened we knew that these are the families that are going to be the hardest hit,” Melissa Firmes, president of KiDS NEED MoRE, told LongIsland.com in a phone interview recently. “I saw it immediately in our families.”
The charity not only hosts camps but they run a bus during the holidays to spread cheer to families coping with serious childhood illness, they do home visits, and many other activities in their work with their families.
“We’re very hands-on with the kids,” said Firmes. “We’re used to hugging them. We can’t do that right now.”
Melissa Firmes. Photo: KiDS NEED MoRE website.
Already, Firmes said, her organization has had to cancel their first camp of the year, a mentoring weekend they planned to hold in Warwick, NY in June. This has caused a lot of stress with the families they serve.
“Anxiety is through the roof,” she said. “These kids are already dealing with a lot of fragility.”
Right now, the organization would be focused on applications for their summer camps but since this future seems uncertain. So they did what a lot of local businesses have been forced to do: they took their services virtual.
“We knew from day one that we had to figure out something else,” Firmes said. “We’ve got to have camp.”
So they took their camps onto Zoom, a video conferencing service that seems to be powering many businesses who are going virtual in the era of sheltering-in-place and social distancing.
“I can’t believe the response.”
KiDS NEED MoRE is hosting anywhere from two to three no-cost sessions a day with up to 40 kids involved in each one. They have well-over 50 volunteer virtual camp counsellors of every age helping out to split sessions into small groups to host fun activities with the kids online.
“We didn’t know if it would work but it's working,” Firmes said, clearly excited about the way KiDS NEED MoRE has been able to make a difference in the lives of these families at an already difficult time made worse by the pandemic. “I didn’t know how much they wanted it.”
Sessions aren’t just for the kids. KiDS NEED MoRE is also giving parents a place to let loose with activities like “make yourself laugh” class where the parents just start laughing. The mere act of doing it becomes infectious.
Firmes also described a session with kids where they are asked to express themselves by making a drawing of something they like. They’re then asked to rip it up and make pieces into something new. The activity becomes therapeutic for the children.
“We talk about why it’s scary to rip up that paper,” she said. “It’s a way to talk about illness and fear.”
KiDS NEED MoRE has also partnered with another Long Island non-profit called Lindy Community Cares Coalition based in Lindenhurst. The idea is to create a "WARMline"for families, friends, and local businesses to call, text or email, to speak with someone who can recommend local services for things like food delivery, or simply to offer a supportive ear to listen to and address any stress or concerns.
To speak with a KiDS NEED MoRE Listener, call 646-907-8805, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Firmes said they are hoping that they will still be able to host their summer camps this year. They usually host a July camp at Saddle Rock Ranch in Middle Island.
Then there is the signature sleepaway camp that they host at Timber Lake West in Roscoe, NY. The sleepaway camp is their pediatrics oncology camp especially for children with cancer, their siblings, and also open to grieving siblings. The program attracts kids not only from Long Island but all over the tri-state area.
That camp has been going for over 30 years.
Of course, they are hopeful but unsure if the coronavirus will prevent them from having it this year.
“We want to have camp,” said Firmes mournfully. “Can we have camp? I don’t know. If it's safe we will have it. If not, we won’t have it.”
Instead they will continue on with their virtual meetings and do what they can for their kids and families.
“This is impacting all these awesome non-profits and we’re no different,” she said. “We’re all in the same boat. We just want to keep going.”
For additional information, or to make a donation, please visit www.kidsneedmore.org.