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:  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

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.