Monday, February 18, 2019

Starting Out Our 40th Year With a Bang

Camp Good Days is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year! We got off to a good start with our annual Florida Fun Fest trip where we took a group of 15 children from our programs, all diagnosed with cancer on the trip of a lifetime to see the wonderful attractions in Orlando, Florida. We also took along two women from our women’s oncology programs. They had the chance to experience SeaWorld, Hollywood Studios, Universal Studios, and Universal Studios’ Islands of Adventure with people who know exactly what it’s like to be them; other people who have been diagnosed with cancer.  We have been doing the trip since 1985 and this year, the trip was held from Thursday, January 17 through Tuesday, January 22, and the schedule was very full.  The only people who couldn’t wait to go to bed at night were the staff and volunteers that came on the trip; the children were still ready for more adventures! 

We started the trip at the newly renovated Rochester airport where the children were provided lunches to eat before boarding by the Taste of Rochester and Jim LeBeau.  The group boarded a direct Southwest Airlines flight from Rochester to Orlando, and then was able to check in to the hotel at Seralago Inn and Suites.  The first thing the children did after getting settled in their hotel rooms was jump in the hotel pool. Dinner for that night was Chick-fil-A.

The next day, the group spent the day at SeaWorld learning about the various animals that were there and going on some fun rides.  The campers came back to the hotel and were able to swim some more and have Moe’s by the pool for dinner. That night, we were joined by campers and staff from the Children’s Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida, who would join us on the rest of the trip at the parks.



On Saturday, everyone went to Hollywood studios where the children were able to go on many rides and see the new ToyStory section of the park.  That night, the campers ate dinner at the park and were able to stay late to see the Fantasmic Firework and Musical Display.





On Sunday, everyone had their first day at Universal Studios and Universal Studios’ Islands of Adventure, and then had dinner at the Golden Corral.  This was the last night we were able to spend time with the campers and staff from the Tampa Children’s Cancer Center, and so we had a tuck-in ceremony like we do at camp, where everyone says goodnight to each other, to wish the Florida group a safe journey back to Tampa.






Monday was the last day in Florida, and the campers were able to spend another day at Universal Studios and Universal Studios’ Islands of Adventure to make sure they were able to go on all the rides that they may have missed the day before.  That night they were able to spend some time by the pool and have pizza with some special visitors and great friends of Camp Good Days: Steve and Patty DiGennaro, Linda and John Mongoven, Judy D’Amico, and Mark Sofia.

On Tuesday, we all woke up early, arrived at the Orlando airport and flew back to Rochester.  Overall, the trip was a wonderful success and the campers made memories that will last a lifetime.  The trip each year is made possible by the Teddi Dance for Love held each year at St. John Fisher College, and through financial gifts from the Sugarman Smiles Fund, the Gary Amendola Fun Fund, and with the help of Tim and Wayne Meisenzahl.  Through these very generous people, we are able to continue providing the Florida Fun Fest Trip.

The Teddi Dance for Love was held from 8:00PM on Friday, February 8 to 8:00PM on Saturday, February 9th.  This year was the 37th year of the dance, and with us being in our 40th year, the dance has been around for almost all of Camp Good Days’ history. The students, administration, faculty, and staff have been keeping Teddi’s memory alive, and nothing makes me happier than hearing the students shout “Teddi! Teddi,”celebrating someone who they have never met, but feel a close connection to.  This year’s Chair and Vice Chair, Allison and Tyler did a phenomenal job planning the event and raising the most money the dance has ever raised, over $100,000! We also chose the winner of the Vanderstyne Totota Car Raffle at the dance, and it was announced that the winner was Andy T. from Ionia, New York!



I was very happy to be joined at the dance by the President of the college, Dr. Rooney, and his wife, Susan, along with 13 WHAM Sports Reporter, Jenna Cottrell, the honorary chair for the dance, who has gone through her own battle with cancer, and Austin Giorgio from the Voice, who sang some songs to get all of the students ready for the dance.  This year, the dance was dedicated to Alissa Cole, a former camper and volunteer who passed away from cancer, and I was very humbled that her parents were able to attend the dance and watch their daughter be honored.  Also recognized at the dance was Thom Wagner, a former camper and volunteer who unfortunately also passed away from cancer recently. His long-time girlfriend was able to come to the dance and share his story to the students.  The balloon launch, one of my favorite parts of the dance, was beautiful out on the football field.  We showed the dancers the wonderful video that featured Bat McGrath’s song that he wrote especially for Camp Good Days.  Bat was recently diagnosed with cancer.  I would urge you to watch the video, and also to keep him and his family in your thoughts.  You can watch the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=biQWpUcRvbY.  To everyone who helped in any way with the Teddi Dance for Love, thank you for keeping Teddi’s memory alive, and for showing our campers a wonderful time.  As Lou Buttino said, “Immortality is being loved by anonymous people,” and I know that Teddi is living on through the Teddi Dance for Love. This year has started out with a bang, and I am excited to see what the rest of our 40th year has in store.  We will have more information coming soon on a 40th year campaign that you can be involved in, and if you know of anyone who has been involved with Camp Good Days in the past, please urge them to reach out to us and give us their up-to-date information so that we can keep them involved!
                        


This year has started out with a bang, and I am very excited to see what the rest of our 40th year has in store.  We will have more information coming soon on a 40th year campaign that you can be involved in, and if you know of anyone who has been involved with Camp Good Days in the past, please urge them to reach out to us and give us their up-to-date information so that we can keep them involved in our 40th year!


Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Bat McGrath: A Dear Friend to Camp Good Days

I hope that everyone had a great holiday and that you all had the chance to enjoy and spend time with your families.  I am very excited for 2019, because we are celebrating Camp Good Days’ 40th anniversary.  I have said many times on this blog that what made Camp Good Days the organization it is today are the hundreds of special people that have come into my life over the years and helped Camp Good Days.

One of those very special people is Bat McGrath, and I was taken aback when I heard recently that he had been diagnosed with cancer.  I first met Bat McGrath when Camp Good Days was celebrating its 35th anniversary.  We were thinking of what we could do to celebrate, and the idea was brought up to have a concert where music artists, who had their roots in Rochester, would come and perform.  Bat McGrath was the first person suggested in the discussion.  Unfortunately, before the plans were put into effect, there was a devastating flood that swept through the lower part of Camp Good Days’ recreational facility on Keuka Lake, which caused almost half a million dollars in damages.  The flood became our priority since we wanted to try and get the camp repaired before our children’s programs started in July.  The community responded and we were able to open for our programs in July.  Unfortunately, we had to cancel our weekend programs leading up to July, but we were able to reschedule them in the fall before we closed camp down for the winter.  

Bat, who sometimes makes several appearances in the Finger Lakes area, decided to visit camp on his own before heading back home to Nashville, Tennessee.  When he got back to Nashville he felt compelled to write a song about Camp Good Days.  When I received the song, I was absolutely blown away, it was beautiful.  I was so excited,that I played the song for all of our staff at our following staff meeting.  I asked Bat if there was any way that he could play the song at camp when he was up in the Finger Lakes area for the summer. He was able to visit during the weekend of our international program with his wife, and play the song for our campers, staff, and volunteers.  While some of our campers did not understand what he was saying, every time he said “Camp Good Days,” they cheered.  It was a very special concert and we were very grateful for him taking the time to bring smiles to our campers’ faces.  When I was thanking him after the concert, he said that what would make it even more special would be if there was a video to go with it.  I was unsure of who to contact to make the video, and he said he would ask some of his friends who were in video production to make it.  A little while later, when I was invited to see the video for the first time, I got very emotional.  Without my knowing, they had placed in the video, clips of Teddi, and it was a wonderful surprise for me to see them.  Since then, the DVD of the song and video has been played hundreds of times at our events, camping programs, and presentations.  The entire project didn’t cost Camp Good Days anything, and it is one of the most generous gifts we have ever received.  If you haven’t seen the video, here is the link on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=biQWpUcRvbY.




It is crazy to me that it is 2019, and we are still having situations like this one with Bat McGrath, where he was otherwise healthy and then finds out he has cancer.  I don’t understand why the government is so focused on arguing over a wall, and having a government shutdown, when that time and effort could be going to something that is affecting every single American whether directly or indirectly.  We need to find a way to end this disease.  One out of every three women and one out of every two men will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime.  Cancer in the United States is like one of the Twin Towers is falling every day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.  For everyone in the United States under 80 years old, cancer is the leading cause of death. Despite the progress we have made, there are still so many people being diagnosed with this disease, and the treatments are still very intense and hard on the patients.  Our government needs to put money and effort into finding the answers.

I ask all of you to keep Bat McGrath and the hundreds of thousands of people who will be diagnosed with cancer this year, in your thoughts.  Hopefully, 2019 will bring in new changes and information in regards to finding the answers to cancer.

Friday, October 19, 2018

It's Officially Event Season

It is officially fall, and we are making the transition from being down at camp to being back in our offices in Mendon.

We had one of our last programs October 13-14, our Fall Fest weekend program.  Our Rochester campers were invited to come down and have a Halloween weekend with their friends from camp before our facility closes until spring. 



We have our last program of the year this weekend, our Men’s Prostate Retreat.  I am very committed to this program and want to see it continue to grow every year.  We get wonderful support from some of the best Urology doctors in Upstate New York including Dr. Jean Joseph who is the Chief of Urology at Strong, and Dr. Louis Eichel who is the Chief of Urology at Rochester General Hospital.  I have heard doctors say that if every man lived to be 100, all would have prostate cancer, and if every woman lived to be 100, all would have breast cancer.  The information given during the talks at this retreat is very helpful, and the entire program is free of charge to the participants. 

As our 39th season comes to a close, I find myself thinking about how wonderful it is that so many people have been impacted by our programs and have been able to share the experience with others just like them. 

On Saturday, September 29th, we had the 14th annual Courage Bowl.  The game was between the St. John Fisher College Cardinals and the College at Brockport Golden Eagles at the College at Brockport.  We had a wonderful crowd of over 7,000 people and it was a chilly, but perfect night for football.  This game gave children from Camp Good Days the opportunity to be part of a college football team and cheerleading squad.  The event has truly become more than just a game. While there had to be a winner and a loser, the real winners were the children from Camp Good Days who participated, and all of the student athletes from Fisher and Brockport displayed great sportsmanship. Brockport also put on a wonderful luncheon where the honorary coaches and cheerleaders met their teams, and where Monroe County Sheriff, Todd Baxter was presented with the Father Joe Lanzalaco Memorial Courage Award.  I greatly appreciate Dr. Macpherson and the College at Brockport for hosting such a wonderful luncheon. The game could not have taken place without President Heidi Macpherson, Athletic Director Erick Hart, Coach Mangone, and the other wonderful staff and players at Brockport, along with President Gerard Rooney, Athletic Director Bob Ward, Coach Vosburgh, and the great staff and players at St. John Fisher. I have never, at another sporting event, seen hundreds of football players, who have given it their all on the field, be able to come together at the end of the game to cheer on the honorary coaches and cheerleaders; these college football players are TRUE student athletes. This is a credit to the staff at both schools for instilling good sportsmanship in their players, especially on the night of an event that is truly “more than just a game.”






As we look ahead to ending the year of 2018, we have the 18th annual Camp Good Days Wine Auction Dinner on Saturday, November 17th, this year with a Winter Wonderland theme. There is no better place to enjoy a wonderful meal and taste medal winning wine from the Finger Lakes International Wine Competition, as well as bid on medal winning wine and other unique items. If you or someone you know likes wine, there will be plenty of wine available to drink and purchase to add to your wine collection.  Thanks to JCPenney, we also have our annual Kazoo Fest starting on Black Friday all through Christmas, where we will be selling kazoos and other items at the area malls (Eastview, Marketplace, Greece Ridge) to raise money to help fund our programs. Anyone can sign up to volunteer on our website! During Kazoo Fest, we will also be selling our car raffle tickets.  Thanks to Vanderstyne Toyota and Toyota Motor Company, we have a 2019 Toyota Corolla SE that will be raffled off during the Teddi Dance for Love at St. John Fisher College on Saturday, February 9th, 2019.  Tickets are 1 for $20 and 3 for $50 and all proceeds go directly to fund our programs and services.

As we move forward into the holiday season, I wish you all a safe, happy and healthy holiday season, and I hope to see you at the Wine Auction Dinner or volunteering at Kazoo Fest.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

As Summer Comes to an End


Our 39th summer here at Camp Good Days has come to an end too soon, but what a summer it has been.  The lord blessed us with beautiful weather, and despite some rain storms in August, the camp suffered no damage.

Earlier in the summer, board member and volunteer, Frank Towner, spoke to the new volunteers during volunteer training.  He and his wife, Melanie, met while being volunteers for Camp Good Days.  Frank was part of the inspiration behind the clown in our logo since he, for many years, has dressed up as Crossroads the clown down at camp to help make the children smile.

To start off our summer, we had our Supportive Spouse program for women or men diagnosed with cancer along with their spouse or friend who has supported them throughout their cancer diagnosis.  As the summer went on, we had the rest of our programs: Junior Good Days, B&ST, Childhood USA I and II, our Doing a World of Good Program, our Brain Tumor Family Retreat, and our Teddi’s Team program.  The children had many visitors during these weeks including the St. John Fisher College and the College at Brockport football teams, the NSX car show, after which, the children were able to ride in sports cars around Watkins Glen, and various law enforcement officers with their canines and electronic toys.





We also had our Rochester City School District Leadership program for children going from elementary school to middle school.  There were many wonderful speakers who came to educate the children on what it is like to work in law enforcement including JP Kennedy, the US Attorney for the Western District of NY; FBI Agent, Jeremy Bell; Deputy Chief of the Rochester Fire Department, Willie Jackson; Monroe County Sheriff, Todd Baxter; and United States Marshal, Charles Salina.

This summer, we had hundreds campers across all of our programs from all over the world, and it is crazy to think of how we started, with just 21 campers from Rochester, 21 from Buffalo, and 21 from Syracuse.  We also had some new campers this year in our Doing a World of Good program from Africa! It is hard to believe that over the past 39 years, we have served over 48,300 campers.



At camp, you know you did your job well if the children are smiling during the programs, and then crying when they leave because they don’t want to go home.  They get to make wonderful bonds with their fellow campers, along with the summer staff, and the volunteers in their cabins. Camp Good Days is truly a place where the campers can be around other children who know exactly what it is like to be them.

Coming up, we have our last two programs; our Women’s Wellness Weekend, and our Men’s Prostate Retreat, and then our programs will officially be done for this year at the facility.

We are getting into event season now, and to kick it off, last Thursday, we had the third Teddi Bowl section V football game, this year between Pittsford and Victor high schools.  There was a full stadium at St. John Fisher College, where we held the game, and the campers who were Honorary Coaches and Cheerleaders had a wonderful time.  Coming up, we have our Tour de Teddi bike ride around Keuka Lake this weekend, the Courage Bowl on September 29th at the College at Brockport, and our Wine Auction Dinner at the Holiday Inn Downtown on November 17th.




This summer was a busy, but wonderful summer, and I am excited for our events this fall.  I wish everyone a safe, happy and healthy start to the school year.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Campers Visit to the Buffalo Bills Training Camp

As summer is moving along, we are getting close to my favorite time of year, football season, and the campers and I had a taste of it on Friday, July 27 when we were guests of the Buffalo Bills at their Training Camp at St. John Fisher College.

We were given the use of the Community Service Youth Tent where each camper and volunteer were given goodie bags with a tee-shirt and a bills program book, and were treated to pizza and snacks.  Not only did the children get a chance to use the interactive activities that were there, they were also able to watch the Bills practice, and after practice, a number of players took the time to come by and meet the kids, sign autographs, and take pictures.  The highlight for me was getting the chance to meet and say “thank you” to Bills’ player Jordan Poyer, who has helped support Camp Good Days in the Buffalo region.  I was also able to meet the Bills’ punter, Colton Schmidt, which was a special moment for me, since it reminded me of being a Special Teams Coach for St. John Fisher, a position I semi-retired from last year after 29 years. 



We have been coming to the Bills Training Camp with our campers ever since the Bills moved their camp to St. John Fisher.  It is truly a wonderful opportunity for the campers to get to meet the players; who they wouldn’t normally have the chance to meet.  Watching their faces light up is the best part of the day.


As I write this, we are in the midst of our busiest time at camp with our international program underway, which brings in children with cancer and sickle cell anemia from all over the world.  We have campers from Spain, Ethiopia, Germany, Belize, the Dominican Republic, and two groups from the Bahamas from Nassau and Freeport. We also have children from the Tampa Florida Children’s Cancer Center.  It is always amazing to watch the children have a wonderful time and make friends despite the language barriers that might exist. Adults from the UN Security Council could learn something from the campers.

Seeing the children down at camp reminds me of the importance of our work.  And while I am needed here like an extra mosquito, I love to sit on my deck and watch the interactions between the campers, volunteers, and our staff, and it makes me feel like a proud grandpa to know that I helped to make it all possible.

I wish you all a safe, happy, and healthy rest of your summer.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Gearing up for the Summer

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On Monday, May 21, we held our 35th annual Tournament of Love at Monroe Golf Club, and just like past years, we were blessed with a beautiful day.  If Rochester’s temperatures stayed like it was during the tournament, there would never be a reason for anyone to leave to go down south.  There were over 100 golfers of all ages who participated in the tournament, and everyone had a great time.  I would like to give special thanks to Liz Vega and Jeff Calkins who were our Honorary Chairs for the event, Dino Kay, who was our Master of Ceremonies, and Sister Francella Quinn, who once again provided a wonderful invocation.  I would also like to thank all those who participated.  This event is another way for Camp Good Days to raise the much needed money we need to run our programs. 


It is hard to believe that what was started to provide my daughter Teddi and 63 other children with a camping experience would turn into what we have today, having served over 47,800 campers from 22 states and 35 countries. 
Our first program of this summer is this weekend, and is one of our adult oncology programs, Camp SOAR, also called our Supportive Spouse weekend.  Men and women who have been diagnosed with cancer can come to the program with their spouse, significant other, or friend who has been very supportive to them during their cancer diagnosis.  The weekend consists of activities like massage, crafts, woodworking, and many opportunities for attendees to interact and bond with one another over their shared experiences. 

Our first children’s program will be our Junior Good Days programs starting the last week in June, and right after July 4th, we will begin our weekly programs until the end of the summer. It is amazing that our programs are still happening after all these years, and that has only been able to happen due to our hundreds of volunteers that we have at camp each summer.  I can’t stress enough that our volunteers is what keeps Camp Good Days going. 

If anyone would like to stop by camp during the summer, we highly encourage it, as we are always happy to have people visit the facility and see the amazing work that is being done there.  If you would like to visit, please give the Mendon office a call at 585-624-5555 and let my assistant, Kira, know when you are planning on coming down to camp so that she can tell our staff down at camp when to expect you. 

I wish everyone a safe, healthy and happy summer.







Wednesday, April 25, 2018

A Night of Gratitude

 
 
One special night every year, we here at Camp Good Days take the time to honor our wonderful volunteers at the Night of Gratitude event.  This year, on April 13th, 40 volunteers were honored during the ceremony—twenty-seven were awarded with the Teddi Award, which is presented to those who have gone above and beyond, throughout the past year, in fulfillment of the mission of Camp Good Days, and thirteen were inducted into the Ring of Honor, which is the highest honor you can receive with our organization.  These inductees have shown continued and outstanding support, dedication, and commitment to the mission of Camp Good Days.  They will also have bricks with their name created, to be placed in the Ring of Honor down at our facility on Keuka Lake.
 
Our volunteers are the backbone of Camp Good Days, and every year we have hundreds who help with our summer camp programs, our year-round activities, and events. 
 
This year, the event was made even more special when I recognized our employees who have been staff members for over 10 years. I was very happy to honor five of our staff members, who do so much to continue the mission of Camp Good Days, and help the children and families we serve.  Camp Good Days would not be able to run smoothly without them! The staff members who were honored were:

Lisa Booz, 13 years, who is the Director of the WNY Regional Office
 
 
Tamara Federico, 26 years, who is in charge of the Women’s Oncology programs, Rochester’s Junior Good Days, and is the Assistant Finance Manager
 
 
James R. McCauley Jr., 13 years, who is the PAVE Coordinator, and is in charge of the Men’s Prostate Retreat
 
 
Karl Rudolfs, 18 years, who is the IT Director, and helps run the Finger Lakes International Wine Competition
 
 
Mark Serrett, 11 years, who is the Director of Maintenance down at our camping recreational facility

Around this time, everyone in our offices are switching into summer mode, and getting ready for our camping programs down on Keuka Lake.  This is such an exciting time of year, and we look forward to seeing everyone down at camp. 
I hope that everyone has a wonderful, safe, and happy spring.