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

Image may contain: one or more people, sky, outdoor and nature

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. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Congresswoman Louise Slaughter Will Truly Be Missed

It took a few times of hearing about Congresswoman Louise Slaughter’s death for it to truly sink in.  She was the type of person who seemed larger than life.  She and I had known each other for 45 years, and it doesn’t seem possible that she could be gone. 

She first came into my life when she decided to run for a Democratic seat on the Monroe County Legislature while I was the Deputy Campaign Manager for the Monroe County Republican Committee.  After losing two close races, she finally won in her third try.  She was unstoppable even then.  After being on the County Legislature, she worked for Mario Cuomo when he was the Secretary of State.  She then moved on to be in the State Assembly, and then in 1986, she won her first term in Congress.  When she died, she was in her 16th term in Congress.  Over the years, her stature had risen until she was one of the most powerful members of Congress. 

Our paths crossed again in the early 90s when I decided to start an international program at Camp Good Days, Doing a World of Good, so that children from around the world affected by cancer could come together with children from Western New York to come to our recreational facility on Keuka Lake.  In the first year of us providing the program, some of the countries who wanted to participate were having trouble getting exit visas.  I flew with the people who were in charge of the program to Washington DC to meet with various friends to see who we could get help from, and after talking to a few people, we ended up meeting with Louise after lunch at her office.  She came out to meet us, and made us feel instantly welcome.  She gave us so much of her time that we almost missed our flight back to Rochester.  She and her office helped us so much when we first started the Doing a World of Good program, and since that program has started, we have had children attend from 35 different countries.

That election season, for the first time in 25 years, I didn’t have a dog in the fight, and so I was home watching the results on television with my wife, Wendy.  When Bob King defeated Tom Frey, Steve Minarik, the Republican County Chairman said during his speech, now that we have gotten rid of Tom Frey, next we’re coming after you, Congresswoman Louise Slaughter.  My wife, Wendy, looked at me and said, Gary, you can’t let that happen.  So a few days after the election, Louise and I met for coffee at the Coal Tower in Pittsford, where I told her that of all the people we met with on our trip to Washington DC, she could gave just given us lip service, but instead, she helped more than anyone else to make our program successful.  And so, I said that if she needed any help with her election in the following year, I would be happy to help.  Louise asked, and I did.  We did a radio spot and a mailing for her, and she was able to win her re-election.

From that point on, Louise and my relationship took on a special meaning, and Louise and Bob became friends of Wendy and mine, and we would all go out to dinner together. I received a phone call one summer, while I was down at camp, from Louise in Washington, asking me to call her back because she needed a favor.  She said that she was having a fundraiser at the Convention Center, but there was a vote scheduled for President Clinton’s Crime Bill, and she needed to stay in Washington DC.  She asked me if I would represent her and introduce Vice President Al Gore at her fundraiser where he was a special guest.  I left camp, went home, and changed, and went to the fundraiser where I sat with the Vice President, welcomed the guests, and explained why Louise couldn’t make it.  I was very honored that she had asked me, and this shows just how close our relationship was.  Louise was a great supporter of Camp Good Days.  She helped with the Kazoo Fest where she would sell kazoos at the Eastview Mall, and she also helped to arrange a visit for the campers to meet Vice President Al Gore in Washington DC, and arranged not only a special tour of the White House, but also of other sites in Washington DC. She spent some time down at our recreational facility on Keuka Lake to see the volunteers and campers when we were in the summer season, and she would often come over to the office in Mendon to meet our staff.  Then, when I had the idea a few years ago for Cancer Mission 2020, the end of cancer by the end of the decade, Louise was one of the first people I went to, and she was very, very supportive.

While Louise and I didn’t often agree on many issues over the years, me being a Republican and Louise being a Democrat, we had such a great respect for each other.  When people would ask me why I always supported her even though we didn’t see eye-to-eye on many issues, I would say that she is a woman who has been in office for many years at the local, state and federal levels without even a hint of scandal, which is very rare to see these days.  She truly cared about her community, and was an upstanding person.   I think that this community has lost one of its most influential people, and it will be very hard to fill the void her passing has created. 

When her husband, Bob, died I thought that she would consider ending her career, especially since he was her constant companion after he retired from Eastman Kodak; they were truly a team.  She ended up deciding that she still had something to offer, and remained in public office. 

I will miss Louise dearly and our periodical coffees that we would have at the Starbucks on the corner of Clover and Monroe, and I know that I can speak on behalf of the campers and families of Camp Good Days, that we will all miss her commitment and willingness to make a difference.  She was truly a remarkable woman, a loyal friend, and a political force to be reckoned with and respected.     

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Losing Another Friend to Cancer in our Community

Once again this past weekend, Camp Good Days and the Rochester community lost a very special friend much too early.  I first met Supreme Court Justice, Elma Bellini, many years ago following the death of her father to cancer while she worked in the Public Defender’s office of Monroe County.  She wanted to get involved with Camp Good Days to help the children and families we serve.  She served as a volunteer at our summer camping programs when we held the camps on Keuka Lake, and she also participated in a number of year-round activities. 

Elma eventually ran for County Court, and she was a welcome addition to the judiciary.  She truly cared about people, and while serving as a County Court Judge, she was assigned to handle the domestic violence cases.  After Elma became a judge and was able to adopt her two children, she didn’t have the time to volunteer at camp anymore.  Our paths would cross intermittently, but whenever we saw each other, it was like we had seen each other the day before. 

One day during one of our visits, she asked if our summer calendar was filled.  She told me how she wanted the children who were innocent victims of domestic violence to be able to experience the magic of camp, and she wondered if I would be willing to host a program down at our facility for them.  I told her that we would find a way to make this happen for them; we just needed volunteers and campers to make the program run smoothly.  The program was a success, and for those of us who were involved, it was the highlight of the summer.  That program is very special to me, and the Camp Good Days staff, and so I have decided to rename the program to “Elma’s Camp” in memory of her and her wonderful work.

Following that summer, Elma became a Supreme Court Justice, and we lost touch.  Elma accomplished many things in her life, but like so many others, her life was cut short by the insidious disease we call cancer.

Please bear with me as I get on my soapbox.  You can’t pick up the newspaper or watch television without hearing our leaders talk about all topics under the sun except for what we are going to do to once and for all, end the disease that touches all of us directly or indirectly.  This disease takes 11,000 Americans every week; many before their time.  That is like one of the Twin Towers falling every day, 365 days a year.  It takes many parents away from their children, and spouses away from each other.  It is the leading cause of death in the United States for people 85 years old and younger, and it is the leading cause of death in the world.  In 2018, I find it very sad that many parents have to go through the terrifying ordeal of burying their child before them, as I had to do, almost 40 years ago.

The only way that we are going to find the answers to this horrible disease is if we have a coordinated effort.  It has to come from our leadership in Washington, and this is only going to happen when we, as citizens, truly live up to our responsibility of letting our elected officials know that we need to stop messing around with this disease.  I have never been more confident than I am now that we possess that ability.  If our government would stop spending and wasting money on inconsequential things that have little importance, and focus that money on finding the answers to cancer, we could find a way to end this disease once and for all.  There are many intelligent people who have dedicated their lives to finding the answers to cancer, but they need more funding, greater patient participation in clinical trials, because that is where the answers are going to come from, and we need the government to stand behind them.

We have lost way too many wonderful people like Elma way before their time from this horrible disease.  Everyone needs to stand up and be counted, so that we can see if we can truly make America great again by finding the answers to cancer.      

Thursday, February 1, 2018

An Exciting Recognition

At our most recent Project Exile meeting, the Rochester Project Exile Advisory Board, which I have been proud to be the Chairman of since its inception, was presented with a letter from Attorney General Jeff Sessions congratulating the board on their hard work and commitment to getting illegal guns off the streets and out of the hands of people who have lost their right to possess them.  The letter was presented to me by the United States Attorney for the Western District of New York, J.P. Kennedy, who is a great asset to Project Exile. 
I have the letter below, along with a picture taken at our annual open house of (left to right) the Sheriff of Monroe County, Todd Baxter, Resident Agent in Charge for Rochester ATF, James Burroughs, myself, and Investigator, Otto Harnischfeger, standing with the letter from Attorney General Jeff Sessions.    
Project Exile was started in Rochester in September 1998, making it the second city to implement the program in the United States after Richmond, VA.  During this time, the homicide rate in Rochester was hovering around 70 homicides a year, which gave Rochester the distinction of having the highest per capita homicide rate of any city in New York State.  It began when I was asked to attend a meeting in a Federal Judge’s chambers, where I met then Acting United States Attorney for the Western District of New York, Denise O’Donnell. As a result of that meeting, Project Exile was implemented in the Rochester community on September 28, 1998. 
Project Exile is a collaborative and cooperative effort between local, state and federal government operating under the direction of the Project Exile Advisory Board, comprised of representatives from local, state and federal prosecutors and law enforcement, as well as businesses, clergy, and community organizations.  The Project Exile Advisory Board meets once per month throughout the year, at the Federal Building, to share information and improve communications among those who are waging the battles against illegal guns and drugs in our community.
Rochester’s Project Exile Program is only successful because of the collaboration and cooperation between different state and local law enforcement agencies, and their federal counterparts. What the model also requires is significant cooperation between prosecutors at the local and state level in order to ensure that offenders were pursued by whichever prosecutor’s office could do so most effectively. 
I am proud to say that Rochester’s Project Exile is the longest running and most successful gun program of its kind in America. After almost 20 years, hundreds of criminals have been exiled and thousands of guns have been neutralized, and since its implementation, the homicide rate has never gone back to what it used to be.  
Over time, other programs have grown out of Project Exile including the Rochester Youth Partnership Program established by Dr. Mark Gestring at the University of Rochester Medical Center, which is a hospital-based violence intervention program that targets trauma victims under the age of 18 when they present for medical care following a knife or gun injury, and Project T.I.P.S. (Trust, Information, Programs and Services) which was started ten years ago to help build relationships between citizens and law enforcement in neighborhoods where there is unsolved crime. 

Thursday, December 21, 2017

As 2018 Approaches...

As the New Year approaches, this is always a special time of year.  I find myself thinking about how much of a miracle it is that Camp Good Days is in its 39th year of providing programs and services to children and families affected by cancer and sickle cell anemia.  During this time, if after your holiday bills are paid for, you find that you have some extra money, please consider making a tax deductable donation to Camp Good Days, or make it part of your New Year’s resolution to donate some of your time volunteering at one of our many programs and events, to help us continue providing our services to the families in our community who need them.  Helping Camp Good Days is a great way to give back and help make a difference in someone’s life.  The schedule for our summer programs will be available at the end of January, so please look over the programs and see if there is one you feel you could help with. 

Camp Good Days would not be what it is without the help of hundreds of volunteers—they are the backbone of Camp Good Days, and I am thankful every day for all the people who help make all we do possible.  In early January, some selected volunteers and key people who help make Camp Good Days possible will be notified that they will be awarded in April at our annual Night of Gratitude. This night is very special to not only the volunteers who are recipients of a Teddi Award or are inducted into the Ring of Honor, but also to the staff at Camp Good Days since we are all able to show our appreciation to our wonderful volunteers!  Those who have gone above and beyond the expectations of a volunteer, and have been a big help this past year will be the recipient of a Teddi Award, and those who have been helping for many years will be inducted into the Ring of Honor, and receive a brick with their name on it to be placed in the Ring of Honor down at our beautiful camp facility on Keuka Lake. 

After the Holiday Season, we will be getting ready for the 36th Annual Teddi Dance for Love that the students at St. John Fisher put on every year to help raise money for our campers.  The Teddi Dance for Love is a 24 hour dance marathon in February, and it is a truly exciting event. Last year, the students were able to raise over $70,000 for Camp Good Days!  We will also be getting ready for our 18th Annual Finger Lakes International Wine Competition where wines from all over the world will be judged and awarded a bronze, silver, gold, or double gold award.  Last year, over 3,000 wines were entered!

This time of year is a busy time at Camp Good Days, and I will try to keep you all updated on all of the exciting things happening! Let me also take this time to wish you and yours a 2018 filled with good health, peace, and much love.