ASHFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — A charity camp designed to bring ill children together and help them recover is now beginning a healing process of its own after a devastating fire.
Earlier this month, more than a dozen structures were damaged at the Hole in the Wall Gang camp when a fire broke out at the facility. The camp was founded by famed actor Paul Newman in 1988, and it regularly welcomed an estimated 20,000 sick kids per year prior to COVID-19 disruptions last year.
As investigators look for the cause of the fire, Nexstar’s WTNH was given a look at damage for the first time.
“Seeing the devastation, the smoldering … I burst into tears,” Program Director Hilary Axtmayer told WTNH.
The damage is tough to look at. The woodshop was destroyed, the cooking center was left in ruins, the arts and crafts center is now just a charred mess. You can make out a large sheriff’s badge and a refrigerator inside the structure, but not much else.
The camp was named after the group of outlaws featured in Newman’s film “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” It became a place for kids with a variety of illnesses to be themselves and “raise a little hell,” as the group website describes it.
It’s been 10 days since the fire, and already the community has started raising something else: money.
“I spoke to a mom who told me her children want to give their allowance to the camp,” Axtmayer said.
Axtmayer said the fire broke hearts across the world, especially because the camp was closed last year due to COVID-19.
“This is tough because this place meant so much to so many people. As soon as it happened, the outpouring was huge,” she said.
As soon as news of the fire broke, donations started pouring in, and on Monday, the camp announced that a $1 million donation match campaign provided by Travelers and the Travelers Championship had been met.
That, along with another $1 million from Newman’s Own Foundation means there is enough money to start rebuilding.
“There is a little magic from Paul Newman and our community,” Axtmayer said.
It’s not yet clear when the children will return to the camp.