Raleigh, North Carolina – In a camp for children who have suffered terrible loss, there is a counselor with a remarkable sense of compassion. He was born out of a tragedy two decades ago.
When theon September 11, 2001, Port Authority engineer Franco Lalama was in his office on the 64th floor of the north tower. He didn’t get out of it.
His daughter, Katie Pereira, was only 7 years old.
“I used to love going to work with him. And then that day he goes to work and just doesn’t come home,” she said. “And I often think about what his last moments were like? Was he scared? Was he in pain?”
In November, Pereira’s mother took her and her sister to Comfort Zone, a camp for grieving children.
“It was just good to be really in a place where I could be a kid and also get the support I needed,” Pereira said.
Lynne Hughes founded the camp after losing her own parents at a young age. Barely three years later, Pereira arrived.
“Katie was just that great personality, smiling, bubbling with infectious laughter,” Hughes said. “It was her place. It was her tribe, and she was in full swing.”
Pereira eventually got married and now has a daughter whom she calls Frankie after the father she lost. She is also back at Comfort Zone, working full time where she credits her life.
“I think sometimes the stars align… it was meant to be. It was just a little bit of something from above,” Hughes said.
Pereira was asked if she felt like her life was on end.
“It does,” she said. “I grew up thinking that good things couldn’t happen to me … but at one point I finally realized, ‘No, good things can happen to you no matter what.'”