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Belfast youth invited to camp.

The world of good that camps do was recognized by President Bill Clinton and the first lady during their historic November 1995 visit to Northern Ireland. When President and Mrs. Clinton traveled to Belfast to celebrate a new season of peace and hope in that troubled part of the world, they received thousands of letters from Northern Irish students expressing their hopes for the future. Camp Counselors USA, an international counselor exchange program, and participating U.S. camps will sponsor eight of the students this summer.

When CCUSA learned that President and Mrs. Clinton were going to Northern Ireland, we wanted American summer camps to play a role in this important occasion. We knew that the president and his staff are very interested in the opinions of young people. CCUSA joined with the Belfast Telegraph, the largest newspaper in Northern Ireland, and the American consul general to invite Northern Irish secondary students to write the president with their hopes for the future. Kathleen Stephens, U.S. consul general, Robin Greer of the U.S. information service, and Edmund Curran, editor of the Belfast Telegraph, judged the letters. CCUSA agreed to place and pay for two summer camp holidays in the United States for the two winning entries.

The response was overwhelming. Thousands of letters poured in, from catholic, protestant, and integrated schools across Northern Ireland. The letters became a theme of the president's remarks, first in the morning when two primary school children read their letters to the president, and later in the evening outside Belfast City Hall, where the two winners, Cathy Harte and Mark Lennox, joined President Clinton in switching on the lights on the city's Christmas tree. Before an estimated live audience of over 70,000 people, and a worldwide television audience of millions more, the first lady read Cathy's and Mark's letters and invited them to attend camp in America, saying, "We will be privileged to have them in America at camp this summer."

At the Christmas tree-lighting ceremony, the president read from a number of other letters. He said, "All the letters in their own way were truly wonderful for their honesty, their simple wisdom, and their passion. Many of the children showed tremendous pride in their homeland, in its beauty and its true nature. They were wonderful and I loved hearing their letters."

As president of CCUSA, I accompanied the winning letter writers and their families to meet President and Mrs. Clinton at Belfast City Hall. After witnessing the intense impact the letters had, both in the United States and in Ireland, CCUSA, together with Aer Lingus, a Dublin airline, decided to sponsor an additional six finalists for summer camp in America.

I worked with the Irish students and American camps to place the winners in camps that best suit their interests. In several cases this process was easy. Finalist Ryan Lemon, who wrote the president a perceptive and moving letter about the changes peace had wrought in his life, ended his letter with a postscript stating that he really needed to know from the president whether or not aliens had landed in Roswell, N.M. in 1947. President Clinton referred to Ryan's letter as he ended his speech at Belfast City Hall by saying, "To all of you who haven't lost your sense of humor, I say thank you. I got a letter from 13-year-old Ryan from Belfast. Now, Ryan, if you're out in the crowd tonight, here's the answer to your question. No, as far as I know, an alien spacecraft did not crash in Roswell, N.M. in 1947. And Ryan, if the United States did recover alien bodies, they didn't tell me about it, either, and I want to know."

As a part of CCUSA's program, Ryan will make his first trip to the United Sates this summer. He will learn about space when he attends Space Camp in Huntsville, Ala.

President Clinton's visit to Northern Ireland is widely regarded as a watershed in the search for a lasting peace. The president termed it one of the most remarkable days of his life. For the people of Northern Ireland, it was an opportunity to celebrate and affirm that peace can and must stay. It was the faces and the words of the thousands of young people who wrote letters that articulate this determination with unmatched eloquence and sincerity.

Kathleen Stephens, U.S. consul general in Belfast, commented, "November 30, 1995 is a day that the people of Northern Ireland will never forget. It brought the world to a new, peaceful Northern Ireland and it brought Northern Ireland's hopes and dreams, in the words of its young people, to the world. I am pleased that American summer camps and CCUSA have shown such a commitment to building on the message of the president's visit by offering young people from Northern Ireland extraordinary opportunities to continue to build bridges among themselves and with the U.S."

* Cathy Harte will attend Woodsmoke Camp, a privately run co-ed camp for younger children. The camp is located on Lake Placid and can only be reached by boat.

* Mark Lennox will attend Adirondack Woodcraft Camps, a privately run camp in the Adirondack Mountains that focuses on campcraft activities such as hiking, backpacking, canoeing, and fishing trips.

* Jane Bell will attend Seafarer YMCA Camp, an all-girls camp located on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Its activities include swimming, boating, waterskiing, and canoeing.

* Richard Teer will attend Tochwogh YMCA Camp, a co-ed camp on the Chesapeake Bay. The camp is oriented toward water sports.

* Helen Gilmore will attend Netimus for Girls, a camp nestled in the mountains of North Carolina. Netimus attracts campers and staff from around the world.

* Teresa Butler will attend Camp Jewel YMCA Camp, a co-ed camp that is known for its trip programs.

* Bridgeen Park will attend Camp Towanda, a traditional, private, co-ed camp in the northeast corner of Pennsylvania.

* Ryan Lemon will attend Space Camp and Camp Laney for Boys. Space Camp, in Huntsville, Ala., offers young astronauts a one week session that focuses on space shuttle operations and mission training. Camp Laney, located in northeastern Alabama, is a traditional camp that serves campers from multi-cultural backgrounds.

RELATED ARTICLE: Dear Mr. President,

What's the craic as we say here, but in other words, how are you doing?

My name is Cathy Harte and I am a 12-year-old catholic girl. I live in Belfast in Northern Ireland and I love it here. It's green, it's beautiful, and well, it's Ireland. My dad's a teacher and my mum is an operator. I love animals and I have a dog of my own called Lucy.

All my life I have only known guns and bombs with people fighting. Now it is different. There are no guns or bombs and on UTV live our local news presenters are tongue tied about news to tell and any they do is mostly good.

When I went down south for my holidays I used to play guess the numberplate on the cars, but now I can play it here in Belfast. There are millions of southern voices and cars around and the town is packed with people from everywhere seeing the sights and shopping, and well, it's my kind of Belfast. My dreams for the future, well I have a lot of them. Hopefully the peace will be permanent. That one day catholics and protestants will be able to walk hand and hand and will be able to live in the same areas. Religion to me does not matter. Catholic, protestants, black or white, it is the person inside that counts. Actually my aunt and uncle are protestants and it is very interesting to see their traditions and ways of life.

What I hope is that when I have my own children that there will still be peace and that Belfast will be a peaceful place from now on. I will see you when you turn on the Christmas tree lights. I send you all the Irish good luck.

Yours faithfully, Cathy Harte, St. Dominic's, Falls Road, Belfast

Bill Harwood is the president of Camp Counselors USA.
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Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:includes related article
Author:Harwood, Bill
Publication:Camping Magazine
Date:May 1, 1996
Words:1358
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