Monday, August 28, 2017

Winding Down Our 38th Summer

It is hard to believe that we are winding down our 38th summer at Camp Good Days, and while the weather could have been a little better, all of the programs ran very smoothly and the children had a wonderful time.  I had the chance to spend more time at camp this summer, especially the international program and Teddi’s Team.  I am needed there like another mosquito, but I love going to camp.  I feel like a proud grandpa seeing the interactions between everyone at camp; especially during the international program where, even though some of the staff, volunteers, and campers may not speak the same language, they still find ways to have fun together.  I feel that this summer, our summer staff was exceptional.

It is nice to think that in a world that continues to change, Camp Good Days has stayed the same, and has stayed true to its promise that no family dealing with cancer has had to ask the question of “can I let my child or loved one go to camp and still make my payments on time?”  All of our programs and services are still being provided free of charge to our participants.  Money doesn’t present an obstacle thanks to the generosity of so many individuals who believe in what we do, and thanks to the success of our fundraising events.  How do we continue to raise money for camp?  This is always a question we ask ourselves, because our programs are not free to run, and we find ways every year to make sure that our programs still continue to be free to our children and families that need them the most.

We have four fundraisers coming up in September, and I would encourage those of you who read my blog to make an effort to participate in one or more of the events whether as a volunteer or attendee.  Our events are as follows:
-The Teddi Bowl, Friday, September1st: A high school level football game between Victor and Aquinas where campers from Camp Good Days can be part of a high school level football team.
-Tour de Teddi, Saturday, September 9th: A bike ride around Keuka Lake starting at our Branchport Facility.
-The 13th Annual Courage Bowl, Saturday, September 16th: A college level football game between St. John Fisher College and the College at Brockport where campers from Camp Good Days can be part of a college football and cheerleading team.
-John Welch Charity Golf Classic, Friday, September 22nd: A golf tournament held at Ravenwood Golf Club by John Welch Enterprise to benefit Camp Good Days.
-The 27th Annual Camp Good Days Wine Auction Dinner, Saturday, September 30th: A roaring 20s themed night filled with silent and live auction items, and gold medal winning wines from the Finger Lakes International Wine Competition.
Often, people ask why we need a camp for children with cancer.  I have never heard it better explained than the way one of our volunteer doctors at our camping programs, Dr. Steve Dubanski said when he gave me a poem he wrote after the first summer that he volunteered at camp.  So, I thought I would share it with all of you since the poem says it better than I ever could. 


Friday, July 28, 2017

A Highlight of the Summer



It is hard to believe that this summer is almost halfway over, and needless to say, it has been a busy and exciting time.  One of the highlights for me each summer is the Ring of Honor Induction at our recreational facility, and this year, we will have an added dimension as we have two dedication ceremonies as well. 

The addition to the infirmary is being dedicated to Dr. Martin Klemperer and the other doctors who have been here for camp over the years.  Dr. Martin Klemperer is probably the most significant person in Camp Good Days history because we were the first camp in the country to be started by a layperson for children from several different medical centers.  While I was always confident that we could make Teddi’s dream a reality, I had to deal with the fact that no parent of a child with cancer would let their child go to camp in the early 80’s unless assured that their child’s medical condition could be well-managed and cared for.  I never worried about the children’s care when it was in the hands of Dr. Klemperer.  Even when he left the University of Rochester Medical Center to go to Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia and then to All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida, where he was the head of the Bone Marrow Transplant Unit, he always maintained his New York Medical License specifically so that they could volunteer at Camp Good Days each summer. After serving as one of our camp doctors for over 25 years, Dr. Klemperer retired.  The good Lord put Dr. Klemperer in my path, and because of him, Camp Good Days became a reality and is what it is today, and thousands of children with cancer have had the chance to experience this magical place firsthand.  It is a real honor to dedicate the addition to the infirmary to Dr. Klemperer and the doctors who have assisted him.

There is also going to be the dedication of the new pontoon boat at Camp Good Days in memory of Salvatore “Skip” DeBiase, Jr.  The boat will be used for boat rides and fishing excursions for the children. Skip DeBiase was my brother from another mother and one of my dearest friends over the years, and was one of the first people I talked to about starting a camp for children with cancer.  From the very first meeting when I brought up the idea of camp, to the day the good Lord took him, he was always there for me and for Camp Good Days. During the first summer of camp, Skip wanted to teach the kids how to fish on Fourth Lake.  He was very excited and went into the local town of Inlet to get supplies, but was discouraged by the locals who said that Fourth Lake was dealing with an acid rain problem and was dead.  Skip, ever the optimist, refused to believe that the lake was dead, and so he bought fishing poles and worms for the kids.  The next morning, Skip taught the kids how to bait the hooks and how to use a reel and cast.  After a few moments, the first child caught a fish, and after a few moments more, all of the kids on the dock had fish.  Skip was always very determined and he cared so much about the people around him.  He started the fishing program at camp, and to this day, fishing is one of the most popular activities at camp.  We are so grateful for the generosity of Skip’s family who donated the pontoon boat to Camp Good Days in his memory. Whenever people take a ride on the wonderful boat, they will see the picture of him helping a camper bait a hook on the plaque we are placing on the boat.

Camp Good Days could never be possible without people like our great volunteers, Dr. Klemperer and the other doctors who have helped at camp, and friends like Skip.  It is crazy to think that this is our 38th summer of programs, and I can only continue to thank the good Lord for all of the wonderful people he has put in my path on this incredible journey.   
 

Monday, June 26, 2017

Thinking of How it all Started...


Who would believe that what started 38 years ago to give the youngest of my three children, Teddi, who was nine at the time, and 62 other children, a residential camping experience, would turn into what Camp Good Days is today. 

Following Teddi’s diagnosis, it became evident that the toughest part of her battle with cancer, was not the craniotomy, radiation therapy, or chemotherapy; it was the loneliness of being the only child in her school and neighborhood dealing with cancer.  This was robbing her of that very special time in her life called childhood, where children have that sense of invincibility; they think that they will live forever and that there is nothing they can’t do.  As Teddi’s father, she looked to me to navigate through her cancer journey.  I remember being with Teddi in her bedroom where she would look up at me, thinking that I could provide the answers that she wanted, only for me to go into the bathroom, grab a stack of towels and break down and cry because I couldn’t help her, and I couldn’t help her to understand what was happening, because I myself didn’t understand. 

During the winter season, I was watching the Today Show one morning, Tom Brokaw was the host at the time, and they said they would take a sort break, and when they came back, they were going to take the viewers to see a special place.  To this day, I don’t know why I decided to watch through the commercial.  In the segment, they showed children who were dealing with cancer at a camping facility.  They were smiling and laughing and singing songs around a camp fire, and fishing in a pond.  I thought of what I saw all during my drive to Albany and how I wanted Teddi to have that experience.  When I was in Albany, I shared what I saw with a young lady in the office, Kathleen, who would put famous TV detective, Columbus, to shame.  She contacted the Today Show, and they agreed to send a copy of the show segment to me.  She then tracked down the reporter and asked him to call me, which to his credit, he did.  I talked to him for 45 minutes and there was excitement in his voice about what he had seen and what I wanted to do.  I was also able to get in touch with the doctor who was in charge of the program and learn more about his.  Rather than send Teddi to the program that was far away, I began to talk to two friends of mine about starting my own program, and I convinced the doctor to come to Rochester to talk about the process. 

So, on a cold morning in Rochester, at the Academy of Medicine, Camp Good Days was born.  There was no name, no money, and no volunteers, but we definitely had the kids.  I was able to find a doctor who was willing to be the medical director, and for the next eight months, I worked on putting the first program together.  We were able to have the first camp at Camp Eagle Cove in the Adirondack Mountains on Fourth Lake.  There were 63 children who participated that first year: 21 from Rochester, 21 from Syracuse, and 21 from Buffalo, along with 77 volunteers.  Everyone who was there that first summer has very special memories in their hearts from their time there.  Soon after the children were on the bus to go home, we were already talking and planning about how to make next year bigger and better, and the rest is history. 

Over the years, Camp Good Days has had great growth.  I am proud to say that we were the first organization in the country to start providing programs to meet the specific needs of children with a sibling or parent with cancer, and later we established a program for men and women with cancer.  When I started Camp Good Days, I made two promises to myself, and I have done my best to make them a reality.  One was that Camp Good Days would never be a bureaucracy, because my career was with the state government, and that was probably the second largest bureaucracy in the world, and the second was that no family would have to deal with the financial anxiety of sending their child to camp when they were already worrying about the question, “why did my child get diagnosed with cancer?”  I never wanted camp to be a source of financial stress for a family already dealing with so much, and so I said that all of our programs and services would be provided free of charge to the participants, and I am pleased that all of the programs and services have been free for the last 38 years.  This is only made possible because of generous individuals and special events like our Camp Good Days Wine Competition and Auction Dinner.  It is crazy to think that 38 years have gone by.  Over the past 38 years, we have served over 47,000 campers from 22 states and 34 countries, and we will add to these numbers after this summer.  Many of our programs and services have served as models for other cancer programs and organizations all over the world.  As today is Teddi’s birthday, I keep thinking of everything that we have accomplished over the years and I am so thankful for everyone who helped to make this happen. 

One day while visiting at the cemetery where Teddi is buried, I thought that I would like to do something for Teddi’s grave, and so with the help of some of the staff in my office, and the cooperation of the cemetery, we made a beautiful plaque for Teddi’s headstone.  A few days ago, some of us visited the grave to see what it looked like, and it looks beautiful.  Over the years, whenever I have had a difficult decision to make, I would find myself going to where she is buried; it is a very quiet place, and I can talk to Teddi there.  It is so amazing to realize that one girl’s battle means so much to so many children and families from all over the world.  I would like to leave you with the idea that children are not possessions, they are a gift from God, and we should always make sure to tell those that we love how much they mean to us.  God bless you all, and have a safe and happy summer.        

Monday, May 15, 2017

Project Exile Continues to Work for Rochester




Over the past several months following the election of President Donald Trump and the appointment of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Project Exile has received a lot of attention.  Specifically, the Administration has recognized that Project Exile, which relies upon coordinated strategies that bring together all levels of law enforcement to reduce gun crime and make our cities safer, ought to serve as a model for combatting violent crime in cities across America. We, in the Rochester community have the longest running and one of the most successful Project Exiles in the country, and we should be very proud of all that has been accomplished. 

During the holiday season of 1997, three uniformed Rochester Police Officers had been shot.  Fortunately, none died, but in order for local law enforcement to find how that perpetrator got the gun that he had used into Rochester, they needed the help of the federal Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF).  This need resulted in the RPD and the ATF forming a multi-agency gun task force, so that they could begin to develop cooperation and share information.  At that time, the Rochester community was desperately searching for a new way to address the crime and violence that was plaguing our community.  Indeed, at that time, the homicide rate in Rochester was hovering around 70 homicides a year, which gave us the distinction of having the highest per capita homicide rate of any city in New York State. 

In trying to find what our community could do to help to deal with the proliferation of illegal guns in our community and the homicide issue, Rochester’s Mayor at the time, together with the RPD Police Chief and the Monroe County District Attorney, met with then-FBI Director Louis Freeh, during a visit that Freeh was making to Buffalo to speak to the employees at the Department of Justice.  Director Freeh mentioned a new program called Project Exile, that was started in Richmond, Virginia, that was having very positive results. 

The Project Exile model relies upon cooperation between different state and local law enforcement agencies, and their federal counterparts.  Fortunately, such cooperation already existed in Rochester in the form of a multi-agency gun task force.  What the model also required, however, was 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.  Historically, this had been a difficult undertaking as prosecutors at the local and state level are elected, while federal prosecutors are appointed. Fortunately for the Rochester community, our then-Acting District Attorney, Howard Relin, and our then-United States Attorney, Denise O’Donnell, were willing to put their egos aside, and work together for what was best for our community.  As a result, a decision was made to give Project Exile a try in Rochester. 

Despite the interest and commitment that law enforcement had for Project Exile, one necessary ingredient was still missing.  In order for Project Exile to succeed, community involvement and support was also required.  At the time, one of the federal judges in Rochester invited me to come to a meeting in his chambers to see whether I, and the PAVE (Partners Against Violence) Initiative of which I was a part, would be willing to lend our support and assistance in bringing Project Exile to Rochester.  So, on September 28th, 1998, at a press conference at our Federal Building in Downtown Rochester, we announced that we would be the second city in the country to implement Project Exile. 

In the first year of its implementation, the homicide rate in Rochester went down to a 14-year low.  According to statistics from the ATF and the RPD, over the past 18 years, hundreds of criminals have been exiled and thousands of illegal guns have been removed from the streets of our community, and the homicide rate, while it has fluctuated over the years, has never gone back to what it was before we began Project Exile.  It is impossible to know what devastation those guns could have caused in our community if they, along with the criminals who possessed them, were allowed to remain on the streets.

Out of Project Exile grew Project TIPS, which stands for Trust, Information, Programs & Services.  TIPS is a program where we bring different law enforcement agencies and social service agencies to a community selected by the RPD Chief and his command staff.  The communities selected typically have a higher than normal amount of unsolved crime.  The goal simply is to raise the level of trust between the people who live in those areas and the men and women of law enforcement who are charged with their public safety.  Working with volunteers from the Criminal Justice Program at the Rochester Institute of Technology, a group of people spend the first part of TIPS going door-to-door asking people simple quality of life questions so that people in the community can share their concerns and frustrations about the quality of life in that particular neighborhood.  The meetings also provide the residents a vehicle through which they can anonymously share information about criminal activity in their neighborhood.  They are able to do so without fear of reprisal as the authorities announce that we are visiting every single home in their neighborhood speaking with every resident possible.

After being surveyed, residents are invited to an area which has previously been established as a staging area for various law enforcement agencies, the fire department, and various social service agencies.  A neighborhood cookout is also held with everyone being invited and all food donated by TOPS Supermarket.  TIPS further provides a way for children in the community to interact with representatives from law enforcement and the fire department in a collegial and non-threatening environment.  The TIPS Program, which we have conducted every summer for the last eleven years, has proven to be very popular and extremely successful. 

Another program that grew from Project Exile is The Rochester Youth Violence Partnership (RYVP), 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.  This was started by Dr. Gestring and the University of Rochester Medical Center.

Project Exile is a model for law enforcement cooperation around the country, and I am proud to have served as the Chair of the Project Exile Advisory Board since its implementation.  I am even more proud that every month for nearly two decades, members of law enforcement, government and social service agencies, clergy, and non-government organizations—those who comprise the Project Exile Board—have gathered at the Federal Building for a single, unifying purpose.  That purpose is to find new and innovative ways to keep our community safe and a good place to work and raise a family. I am happy to report that nearly twenty years since its start, Project Exile continues to work for Rochester.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Passing of a Close Friend


I hope that all is well with you.  I will take credit for the nicer than usual weather we have been having, which Wendy and I brought back with us from Florida.  

A week ago, on Sunday, I received a call from the son of one of my best friends, Skip DeBiase, telling me that Skip had passed away.  Skip’s son asked if I would be willing to read the eulogy, which I was honored to do, but it was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do since Skip and I had been friends for over 40 years.   

Skip had struggled with back problems and surgeries, which caused bouts of depression, and then he got the worst news anyone could get; that he has a malignant tumor.  He was told that he should start chemotherapy and radiation, but Skip chose not to.  Like everything else in Skip’s life, he chose to leave this world on his own terms.

Over the summer, I was at camp while Skip was staying at home and didn’t want to see anyone.  I wrote him a letter expressing my love of our friendship, which I have pictured below for you all to see.  I hope that this letter will show you how close our friendship was, and how much I truly cared and loved him.


Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Cancer Takes Another Before Their Time

Cancer, as we have said many times, affects everyone; either directly or indirectly, and Camp Good Days is no exception.  Once again, on Martin Luther King Day, I had to hear some very sad news.  I received a call early in the morning telling me that our long-time volunteer, Matt O’Brien had passed away and had lost his battle with cancer.  Matt exemplified what it meant to be a Camp Good Days volunteer.

I first met Matt when he volunteered to be a camp counselor at our summer camp back in 1992.  He has been volunteering at camp in the summer pretty much every year except for last year.  He always volunteered at more than one program, which I am sure took up much of his vacation time.  He would volunteer at our women’s oncology weekends, our Teddi’s Team program for 8-12 year olds with cancer, and our Doing a World of Good International program.  He loved the campers, and you never questioned why he was there; he gave all that he had to the campers he worked with.  He was always willing to do anything for anyone and he never complained.  When I would go to thank him, he would always say, “I should be the one thanking you for this experience.”  He helped with our special events like our Annual Joe Benet Memorial Kazoo Fest, the Explorer Post, and the air show. 
Matt at Camp
I, along with countless others here at Camp Good Days will miss him.  I not only consider him to be a great volunteer, but also a great friend.  I know that he will be reunited with all of his Camp Good Days friends in Heaven, and I feel that Sonia is greeting him at the door.  

Each year, Camp Good Days has A Night of Gratitude, where we recognize volunteers and supporters of Camp Good Days who have gone above and beyond what we as an organization can expect, and I am very pleased to say that at this year’s Night of Gratitude, on April 7th, we will be inducting Matt into the Ring of Honor.  In this way, he will be a part of Camp Good Days for all staff, volunteers, and campers to see in the future.  He was a good man, and he will be greatly missed.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

A New Year Brings Promise


Welcome to 2017, with all of the promise that a new year has to offer.   All of us from Camp Good Days and Special Times are excited to see what this year will bring.  Hopefully, we have laid the groundwork, and there will be some movement with Cancer Mission 2020 this year.  I hope that we will take a big step towards reaching the goal of making cancer the type of disease that when someone is diagnosed, they can continue to live a good quality of life and hopefully die from something other than their cancer.  There is a lot of good work being done to help achieve that, but I am hoping that with the election of the new president, and with one party having the majority of the two houses, that maybe some of the bickering that has plagued our government over these past many years will end, and we can move forward towards getting something accomplished. 
To me, and I think to many of you, what could be more important than finding some of the answers to this disease that takes so many of our loved ones?  As we have said many times, cancer is not a Republican, Democrat, Conservative, or Liberal disease, it is an equal opportunity illness that unfortunately takes 11,000 of our fellow Americans every single week. When your chances of being diagnosed with cancer in your lifetime are greater than that of tripping while using your Smartphone, I think it is time that something concrete gets done.  Your chances of tripping while texting are 1-in-10, but in the United States today, your chances of being diagnosed with cancer in your lifetime as a woman is 1-in-3 and as a man it is 1-in-2. Those are certainly not odds that we should continue to live with. 
With your help, and with the help of the many 1,000s of people that have signed our Cancer Mission 2020 petitions, something can be done.  We need people who are not afraid to stand up and be counted. Urge your family, your friends, and your co-workers, to get involved and help us say that we want action.  I am pretty confident that we will begin to see some.  If you haven’t signed the Cancer Mission 2020 petition, please do so today, and I hope that you will join with us.  As we have said, Cancer Mission 2020 is like a tripod; the first leg of the tripod is education and sharing with people where we are with our efforts to cure cancer.  The second is a call to action, which we started with the call to increase the number of clinical trials and trying to secure additional funding for these trials, as those are where some of the answers to cancer are going to come from.  The last leg is accountability, which so often is sorely missing when it comes to cancer and cancer research. 
I am pleased that Vice President Biden has said in some of his final interviews as Vice President that he is going to commit his time and efforts to help lead the way to finding the answers to cancer.  And I know that Louise Slaughter and Tom Reed who have been very, very supportive will do what they can do to help as well.  I am also excited to hear about the work that Eric Trump, our President Elect’s son, has done.  He has been out there working to help secure funds for cancer.  I think that this is the time to come together, and maybe we can convince President Elect Trump to make one more cabinet level position; meaning for the lack of a better expression, a cancer tsar, someone whose sole job is to bring all of the efforts to finding the answers to cure cancer together, so that we can have a coordinated effort rather than the fragmented effort that we have today. 
I needed no greater reminder of the devastation of cancer than these past couple of weeks, when I learned that someone who was a very large part of Camp Good Days in its formative years, Sonia Basko had died. I first met Sonia when she was just becoming a teenager following her diagnosis of Hodgkin’s Disease.  Sonia was a regular at Camp Good Days with our summer camping programs, our Kris Connection, and our annual Florida trip.  While I haven’t really seen Sonia in a while, it was nice reading the notes about her and to hear some of her friends and co-workers speak at her funeral about what she has gone on to accomplish with her life’s work of education and support of social justice causes for teachers.  I am confident that when she gets to heaven, she will reunite with some of her friends from the early days at Camp Good Days, but I am nervous that she might start to unionize them.  I was happy to have the opportunity to talk to Sonia’s sister and mother at the funeral and was honored to listen to them express how much Camp Good Days meant to Sonia and her sister in different ways.  Her sister came to our sibling camping program and Sonia came to our programs for children with cancer.  Like many of our long term survivors, it wasn’t the cancer that directly took Sonia’s life; she contracted pneumonia as she began to treat her reoccurrence.  Sonia, like many of our former campers, had a weakened immune system.  Diseases that a healthy person’s body would be able to reject and fight vigorously are hard to fight for someone who had cancer and therefore a very weak immune system. One of the first things I did when I learned of Sonia’s passing was to look through my office to find a couple of pictures of Sonia, and what I found were pictures that were taken when we took the kids from our Kris Connection to meet President and Nancy Reagan in the Diplomatic Greeting Room in the White House.  I can’t help but wonder if that was the start of Sonia’s lobbying efforts.  I also found her questionnaire that she filled out when she signed up for Kris Connection when she was thirteen.  Sonia’s presence will be greatly missed here at Camp Good Days.

Participants of Kris Connection at the White House in the Diplomatic Greeting Room circa 1987
President and Nancy Reagan meeting the participants of Kris Connection circa 1987
To stay in touch with Camp Good Days, visit our website, www.campgooddays.org.  Also, visit our Cancer Mission 2020 website to stay up-to-date, and to sign our petition if you haven’t already done so, www.cancermission2020.org.  You can also listen to our radio show, Good Days and Special Times, the first Thursday of every month at 6:30 PM with WYSL on 1040 AM or 92.1 FM.  If you cannot tune in when the show is airing, you can listen to the show as a podcast on the WYSL website, www.wysl1040.com.   
I will try to do a better job of keeping these posts a little more up-to-date, and I ask you to bear with me.  I wish all of you a New Year that will be filled with good health, happiness, peace, and the most important ingredient, love.