- There is nothing like a holiday party to lift the spirits. Walking up to a friend's home softly blazing with colorful lights and trimmed with evergreens, one cannot feel anything but warmth and the cheer that comes this time of year.
Kathy Russo and Barbara Roberts. Photos by John Wegorzewski
Such was the case on Saturday evening when much loved WLIU radio producer Kathie Russo
opened her Sag Harbor home for a cause very close to her heart. Kathie, widow of the late iconic actor, writer, director and monologist Spalding Gray
, and her family welcomed friends and supporters of Time For Teens, a unique bereavement program for teenagers who have lost a loved one, to her cozy Sag Harbor home for a festive evening of music, food and drink and lots of good feeling to raise funds for Time For Teens summer camp and programs.
Founded by licensed clinical social worker Laraine Gordon
, who has had a practice in Southampton for over 10 years, Gordon's innovative program is dedicated to providing teenagers with a sensitive, caring, and creative environment for healing through education and counseling. Each summer the organization holds a week-long bereavement camp on Shelter Island filled with activities that help them heal and strengthen resilience through creativity, connection communication, and caring.
The fruits of their labor were clearly visible throughout the Russo-Gray home that night as many of the families attending had participated in the program. Helping out at the event were the three Kirk
brothers - Brendan
. When their father Peter Kirk
, a state trooper, died two years ago their mother Allanah
enrolled Brendan, Cameron, and youngest brother Connor
, in the Time For Teens summer camp.
As Allanah explained, "As strong as the relationship is that I have with each of my children, there are sometimes things they don't feel they can bring to me. The camp offered them the opportunity to share their stories, their concerns and fears with other kids who were going through the same thing - some more horrible than what they experienced". Continuing she noted, "They created a bond with other kids that has helped them throughout the years".
The camp experience was particularly important for son Brendan who developed his writing skills to the extent that the following year he brought a completed film script to the camp's spring film workshop that the group actually filmed. Brendan also writes poetry, and is hoping to get into the writing program at the State University of New York at Purchase.
Dylan Willingham, Wade Lahrman, Ben Kushner, Jake Kushner, and Theo Gray
at the piano.
A beaming Allanah Kirk told us how much the boys worshipped their dad who did all the traditional father-son things with them and always made time for his boys. "All I can say to them now is stand up and make your father proud" which it seems the Kirk young men are doing indeed.
Kathie Russo, who tragically lost her husband Spalding Gray, an apparent suicide that was well chronicled in the media, was very strong on her support for the program. "For my son Theo
, attending Time For Teens camp this summer was life-changing. Since his father died five years ago, he was able to freely talk about his Dad in a group of peers that knew exactly what he was experiencing. He didn't feel like he was alone with his feelings for the very first time".
Theo's experience was so helpful that when his best friend lost his dad this year Theo reserved places for both of them in the camp this summer!
, another camp alumnus, who was there with her mom Brenda Siemer Scheider
, remembered her father, famed actor and activist Roy Scheider
as always being there for them and how losing him created a hole in the fabric of the family. Going to the camp helped her connect with her feelings of loss with others in the same situation
Though the stories were heartbreaking indeed, the mood at the holiday party was anything but. There was a lively round of songs provided by One Diva Too Many
which set everyone's toes-a-tapping with tunes ranging from "Freres Jacques" to "Amazing Grace" to "Going to the Chapel." Then Theo Gray and his young pals took to the piano for a few three-handed numbers. Guests mingled through the cozy home where images of Spalding at play with his wife and children filled the house.
Thanks to underwriting support from Southamptonites Rand
and Jesse Araskog
there were incredible hors d'oeuvres from the kitchens of Nick & Toni's
and Janet O'Brien
Caterers provided the sweet treats that filled the take home bags for guests that were lined up on the front porch for everyone to snatch on their way home.
In just a few short years, Laraine Gordon has been able to grow her organization with the amazing support of the community and develop a committed board of directors including Allanah Kirk
, Cheryl Babinski
, Kathie Russo
, Whitney Knowlton
, Susan Bonaker
, Karrie Zampini-Robinson
, Sondra Lenz
, Heather Matthews
, Jude Treder-Wolff
, Fred McLaughlin
, Nick Wolff
and her biggest fan, husband Tom Holdsworth
Honorary Board advisors who have lent their considerable influence to help Time for Teens are Mayor Mark Epley
of Southampton and County Legislator Jay Schneiderman
Barbara Close, Brenda Siemer Scheider, and Courtney Hoblock.
Important support has come from a number of areas including prominent Hamptonites Craig Mowry
who has helped underwrite fundraising events and bestselling author Carole O'Malley Gaunt
So compelling is the story of Time For Teens that New Yorker Mercedes Condy
who had no connection with the organization read a newspaper article last week about Gordon and the program, booked a room at the American Hotel
and took a cab to the Russo-Gray home to make a donation to the cause!
Among the revelers for a good cause Saturday were Susan Burnside
, WLIU host Bonnie Grice
, Marissa Maier
, Walter Channing
, Barbara Close
, Courtney Hablock
, Susan Retsky
and Mercedes Condy
For Laraine Gordon who saw this need and responded with not only the camp but a series of workshops in film, writing and cabaret throughout the year, the success is most gratifying. But as she told us the need is much greater, "We already have a waiting list for next summer and hope to add a second week - funding allowing - this year to accommodate additional teens."
The summer camp program offers daily group therapy with professional licensed therapists during which teens are encouraged to talk about the person who has died and learn tools for coping with grief; psychodrama, a creative technique, is offered to teens during retreat week. Historically, psychodrama traces to the principle of play, acting out experiences through dramatic methods.
The Shelter Island camp activities include daily kayaking, a golf clinic, yoga, swimming and basketball. Teens have a choice during certain times as to which activity they would enjoy the most. Lunch is provided each day. Families pay just $25 for enrollment in the camp program with the real cost defrayed by sponsorships.
Sponsoring a teen in the summer camp program is just $250. Those interested can do so online at www.Time4Teens.org or by contacting Laraine Gordon, Time for Teens, Inc, P.O. Box 552, Southampton, New York 11969, 631-338-7258 or firstname.lastname@example.org.