Camp Fatima was “my first experience of the Kingdom of God on earth,” says Eileen McCann. And, as providence would have it, Frank McCann was there, too. Camp Fatima of New Jersey, an all-volunteer summer program for people with disabilities, was where Eileen and Frank began their life of shared service to others-one which came to benefit Family Promise of Bergen County.
The two met in the summer of 1972, when Camp Fatima was being held in Ringwood. Eileen was a special education major at Trenton State (now the College of New Jersey); Frank was a divinity student at Seton Hall and planned to become a priest. She was a camp counselor. Frank, whose family was in the food business, was a cook. They and all the other volunteers “gave everything of ourselves for that one week,’’ Eileen now recalls. They worked there together over the course of the next five summers. Many of those who volunteered at the camp during that time ended up marrying, and, in 1978, so did Eileen and Frank (who’d decided not to pursue a priestly vocation). They settled in Wyckoff and had three children.
The couple became acquainted with Family Promise in 2005, when Frank went to work for the organization’s national office. They also knew Nancy Woods, as a fellow parishioner at St. Anastasia’s Church in Teaneck and a fellow associate of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace.
After Family Promise of Bergen County moved its base of operations to Ridgewood, Eileen, a special education early childhood teacher for the village, began volunteering on Friday afternoons at the Family Center. She’d bring games, toys, crafts and snacks for the kids, for whom Fridays were their “longest days.’’ She played a similar role on weeknights while parents in the program were participating in financial literacy and other such programs.
Those could be long evenings, especially for younger kids. “Sometimes I’d think, ‘What have I gotten myself into?’ she says. “But it was a lot of fun.’’ Yet her enjoyment was tinged with sadness when she thought about the plight of these homeless families. On the last day of school, when she knew her own kids and their friends would be celebrating with pool parties and games of manhunt, the kids at the Family Center were waiting for a van to take them to spend the night at a church or synagogue.
“It puts so much in perspective,’’ she says.
According to Director of Volunteers Margo Heller, “Eileen was absolutely magical with the children and they all adored her. She was loving, kind, fun, knowledgeable, and attentive to each child’s unique needs even with a noisy crowd. It was amazing to witness.”
The McCanns also volunteered at St. Anastasia’s when the parish hosted Family Promise families three weeks each year, and Frank – who knew how to cook for a crowd – coordinated the parish’s meals at the Family Promise Walk-in Dinner in Hackensack three times a year for nine years. When families stayed at the church, he’d cook the guests’ favorite meals. And he took photographs at the Family Promise Christmas Party and other such events.
Now, with Eileen’s retirement after 36 years of teaching, the couple is leaving their home of 35 years in Wyckoff and moving to Pennsylvania to be closer to the families of their daughters, Clare and Katie. Their son Tim lives in Washington, D.C. In all, the McCanns have nine grandchildren ranging in age from 22 months to 16 years.
And it all started at Camp Fatima. “Everything good in my life I trace back to there,’’ she says – including a love of helping others that led her and Frank to Family Promise. We honor and thank Eileen and Frank for their many years of love and service and wish them a wonderful and well-deserved retirement! They will be sorely missed.