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Erica Ford’s LIFE Camp celebrates 10th anniversary

Erica Ford, (r.) the founder of Life Camp, speaks about the organization's 10-year history as Kimberly Spellman, whose son was murdered in 2008, and Councilman Ruben Wills look on. Photo by Christina Santucci
TimesLedger Newspapers

Erica Ford celebrated the 10th anniversary of her anti-violence group LIFE Camp with a barbecue at her new South Jamaica office Monday, where community members shared not only stories of loss but ones of inspiration and healing.

Ford pointed to the youngsters who danced and ran around the lot behind 111-12 Sutphin Blvd. and said they were her most important accomplishments over the past decade.

“I look at some of these young people and know for a fact they wouldn’t be here without us,” she said.

Ford started LIFE Camp in 2002 as a way to teach schoolchildren to avoid violence, and in that time she has been a constant force in southeast Queens.

“She’s done something others could not,” said City Councilman Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica). “She made sure the focus stayed on the violence and the negativity in our community. A lot of the time the attention is only focused when the violence is spiking and then it goes away.”

Diane Mitchell said that when her son, 19-year-old Brandon Smart, was killed in 2004, Ford made her a promise that she would open an office for LIFE Camp one day. With tears in her eyes, Mitchell held up the program for her son’s funeral, which contained the poem Ford penned in honor of the young man.

“The whole time Erica supports you and gives you the strength to carry on. Whenever you deal with the loss of a son or any child, you have a tendency to shut down,” she said. “My heart is still so heavy, but now I’m able to reach out and help others.”

Algerita Carter said Mitchell provided a shoulder for her to lean on when her son was killed in 2010.

“It feels really good to have things like this,” she said. “Maybe we can reach out to more families that are going through the same thing we went through.”

Carter said hoped that groups such as LIFE Camp and other community organizations could help the two young boys her son left behind when he died. In fact, a number of the young members of LIFE Camp who reach out to the community and speak out against violence have lost loved ones on the street.

Penny Wrencher said her son, a Metropolitan Transportation Authority bus driver, died four years ago when he was caught in the crossfire of a drive-by shooting. She said she is just now able to go by the bus depot in Jamaica where he worked, and credited Ford for creating a community in LIFE Camp that helps survivors heal.

“She never forgets a name,” Wrencher said. “She never forgets a story.”

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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