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At Paul Newman's camp for seriously ill children, a new center emerges after fire

Amarey Brookshire (13), examines the mosaic mural that now stands at the center of the rebuilt Creative Complex at Paul Newman's Hole In the Wall Gang Camp in Ashford. The original complex was destroyed in a fire in 2021. Amarey remained quiet, but her mother, Amarilis Franjul, told those present how much the Hole In the Wall Camp has meant to them throughout years of involvement.
Tyler Russell
/
Connecticut Public
Amarey Brookshire, 13), examines the mosaic mural that now stands at the center of the rebuilt Creative Complex at Paul Newman's Hole in the Wall Gang Camp in Ashford. The previous complex was destroyed by a fire in 2021.

The newly built Creative Complex at the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp represents a new beginning forged from tragedy, according to CEO Jimmy Canton.

“Because out of that tragedy, something beautiful and extraordinary emerged as our community rallied to our sides,” Canton said at a ribbon-cutting ceremony in Ashford Tuesday. “Today I stand before you filled with gratitude.”

A fire in 2021 destroyed part of the camp, which had been founded by actor and philanthropist Paul Newman. The camp caters to seriously ill children and family members free of charge.

The 11,000-square-foot complex is home to the camp’s arts and crafts programs, a store and a kitchen. Camp officials and Gov. Ned Lamont presided at the grand opening for the new building, which will promote autonomy and boasts eco-friendly energy use.

Among those in attendance at Tuesday’s ceremony: Amarey Brookshire, 13, who attended camp in 2022, and her mother, Amarilis Franjul.

Brookshire has sickle cell disease, which Franjul said has led to more than 30 blood transfusions. They were saddened over the fire, but Franjul said it also brought people together.

“The silver lining is that it has brought us all here today,” Franjul said. “We may not have been prepared in that moment. But sometimes life forces change upon us and, although change is sometimes hard, it is always needed.”

The new building features an open concept main level to help promote collaboration. A serenity room will let parents unwind, and a quiet corner will allow children with sensory issues to decompress from the hectic pace of camp life.

Two years after a devastating fire in 2021, Paul Newman's Hole in the Wall Gang Camp opens the newly rebuilt Creative Complex at the camp in Ashford.
Tyler Russell
/
Connecticut Public
Two years after a devastating fire in 2021, Paul Newman's Hole in the Wall Gang Camp opened the newly rebuilt Creative Complex at the camp in Ashford.

The building will be heated by an alternative to fossil fuels, said Hilary Axtmayer, the chief program officer.

“Even the building’s heating and cooling has been designed with the future in mind and will be fully supplied by geothermal energy,” Axtmayer said.

Axtmayer also said the use of geothermal energy will prevent 77 tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.

But the Creative Complex won’t just help the environment. The camp’s mission, according to its website, states the camp was founded to give every child, no matter their illness, the chance to “raise a little hell.” The camp, which was established in 1988, now serves more than 20,000 children a year.

Axtmayer said she expects hundreds of children to attend camp this summer. Brookshire is planning to apply for this year as well.