The Putnam Examiner

Legendary Rapper Trades Inspiration with Campers in Putnam Valley

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Darryl McDaniels performed at Camp Felix in Putnam Valley last week.

If you were in Putnam Valley last Thursday evening and heard the classic rock-rap song, “Walk This Way,” resonating through the air, it wasn’t a recording, but a member of the legendary Hip Hop group, Run DMC, Darryl McDaniels, doing a live performance for dozens of delighted campers as part of their annual talent show.

For the past seven years, foster kids under the care of  The New York Foundling, have attended Camp Felix in Putnam Valley for one or two or three or four weeks to enjoy the great outdoors, many for the first time, and to build on all-around life skills.

Camp Felix came to be when McDaniels and his friend Sheila Jaffe began talking about what they could do to help children in the foster care system. It was a cause, near and dear to their hearts, as McDaniels, who grew up in Queens, discovered at the age of 35 that he was adopted out of foster care, and Jaffe, who grew up in the Bronx, was adopted herself.

In February 2006, they approached the Foundling’s board to see about opening a sleep-away camp for foster kids and by that August, the first group of children headed off to summer camp at Camp Felix.

Camp Felix campers and counselors participate in the annual talent show last week.

Last Thursday evening, it was a colorful scene, with campers uniformly decked out in red t-shirts and colorful banners hanging above the picnic tables where the children waited for the big show to begin.

“It’s our obligation to make sure you guys have these opportunities as you grow up,” Foundling Executive Director Bill Baccaglini said to the campers.

He pointed out that one of the Camp Felix counselors was one of the original campers years ago and she now was about to head off to college at SUNY Albany this fall.

“The message to you guys is, you can be whatever you want to be,” Baccaglini said.

Both Baccaglini and McDaniels said that offering these children an opportunity to go to camp, many of whom have never been to the countryside before, was an important exercise in showing them the wide array of possibilities that are available.

“We love Putnam for having this place,” McDaniels said of the camping facility located on Peekskill Hollow Road that is owned by Catholic Charities of New York.

Boys and girls, ages eight to 13, took to the stage to perform song and dance, to play guitar and put on skits, as McDaniels, Jaffe, Baccaglini and other guests watched attentively from the audience.

The broad smiles, frequent giggles and high energy of the campers did not betray the harrowing circumstances some of them have faced at such a young and vulnerable age.

“I tell them, it doesn’t define you if your mom is in jail and your dad is on drugs; you are OK, you are children of potential,” McDaniels said of counseling children on not letting the faults of their parents get in the way of how they see themselves.

When McDaniels took to the mic, he used his success and fame as a rapper as a parable to share words of wisdom and inspiration with the campers.

“Yo, this is one of the greatest places on Earth, because of this one fact: the boys and girls who come to Camp Felix,” McDaniels said.“When I see you, I see Hip Hop. Hip Hop wasn’t created by a record executive. It wasn’t a grown-up who created Hip Hop. It was created by boys and girls just like all of you.”

A counselor, who was once a camper herself, provides guitar back-up for a campers' singing performance during the annual talent show.

McDaniels said that famous rappers Eminem, Jay-Z and Kanye West had told him that he was the greatest rapper who ever was. But, he also offered the campers the caveat that the key to life was not about being rich or famous or adored, but finding something that you are good at and that you love to do.

He said the same advice he was given as a child holds true today: Do your homework. Stay away from gangs. Don’t drink and don’t do or sell drugs.

“There are a million people who want you to do negative things…but don’t listen to them,” he said.

Before doing a live rap for the kids, McDaniels said he was not at Camp Felix to grace campers with his presence. It was the reverse.

“The reason I came to Camp Felix, to look in your faces and talk about positive things, the only reason, is so I could come here and take some of your guys’ energy,” he said of how visits to the camp have an enormously positive and visible impact on him.

Upon his return to the city, friends and colleagues will inquire: why so happy Darryl?

“Because, last night I saw the most powerful thing I could see,” he said of his response.

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