Thursday, November 5, 2020

A Surprise from Senator Rich Funke...

I hope that this blog finds you well during this crazy year. Like you, we at Camp Good Days are working through the current struggles and are adapting and adjusting to what life is throwing at us. We are working hard so we can continue providing programs and services for families affected by cancer and sickle cell anemia. The ultimate goal is to continue to be there for every child and family who needs us.

In order to generate the financial support we need, we have had to make some changes to our fundraisers and special events. We have held our Annual Wine Auction Dinner for 20 years, but this year, we had to re-imagine the dinner as an online auction. We are going to have hundreds of wine packages along with other exciting items. The auction goes from November 12th at 10:00AM until November 19th at 8:00PM. You can view and bid on the items here.

Thanks to Vanderstyne Toyota and Toyota Motor Corporation, we once again have a car to raffle off! This year, the car will be a 2021 Toyota Corolla SE. Tickets are 1 for $20 and 3 for $50, and the drawing will be on April 15th, 2021. Every single dollar raised from this raffle goes directly to Camp Good Days!

We also have the guitar raffle still going on! Over the years, Rochester's own Lou Gramm, from Foreigner has been an avid supporter of Camp Good Days. Gramm, along with his wife, Robyn, have put together a very special raffle item! In honor of the late Bat McGrath, a well-known singer/songwriter who was also from Rochester and a friend of Camp Good Days, Lou Gramm has donated a guitar signed by past and present members of Foreigner. The proceeds from this raffle will go towards renovating the music activity hut at Camp Good Days’ recreational facility in Branchport, NY. The hut will be re-dedicated in memory of Bat McGrath. Tickets are 1 for $10 or 3 for $20. The drawing will happen at the dedication of the music hut in the spring of 2021.

Information for both the car raffle and the guitar raffle are on our website!

For me, personally, I had a nice surprise when I received a call from Senator Rich Funke, asking if he could come into the office and meet with me. I have known Rich for many years, starting back when he began his career working at a local radio station and later became an anchor with News10NBC. We have a special bond since we both have lost a child to cancer. He presented me with an award, the highest award the New York State Senate can present to a citizen, the Liberty Award.

“The New York State Senate Liberty Award is the state’s highest honor. It is presented to citizens who have merited special commendation for their actions on behalf of their fellow New Yorkers and their community.”

I was very humbled because of the significance of the award and because it is one of the last things Rich will have done before leaving the State Senate. It will be on display in our office in Mendon and once our museum is completed at camp, it will be placed there for all to see.

 



As the holiday season approaches, please keep the children and families of Camp Good Days in your thoughts and prayers. We will continue to be there for everyone diagnosed with cancer and sickle cell anemia who needs us. Cancer doesn’t stop during pandemic and neither will we!

Monday, September 21, 2020

A Camp Good Days Pioneer

In October, we will be starting Camp Good Days’ 42nd year. It is crazy to think that over these years, we have served over 50,000 campers from 22 states and 36 foreign countries. This accomplishment would never have happened without some very important people. One of those people was Adele House, who passed away recently.

I have often talked about how special some of the Camp Good Days pioneers were in the early days and how they helped to make Camp Good Days a reality. It wasn’t until 1982 that we had an office and our first paid staff person; in the beginning, we were all unpaid volunteers who had a dream of making a difference in the lives of children diagnosed with cancer. When I had said that I was starting a camp for children with cancer, most people didn’t really understand what I was trying to do or were fearful because the word “cancer” was the most feared word in the English language, and when it was associated with a child, it was too much for people to think about. The friends who were close to me knew what I was going through and when I asked them to help make Camp happen, they did. They were willing to loosen their ties, roll up their sleeves and do what they needed to do to help make the dream come true because they knew children in our community like my daughter, Teddi, were in need. Camp Good Days was the result of their commitment and hard work. 

When Adele became involved with Camp Good Days, she was the secretary to former Family Court Judge, Anthony Bonadio. As those of you who know me are aware, typing is not a skill that I have, and in order to get everything squared away to be able to host Camp including getting out correspondence, setting up meetings, etc., I needed a great deal of help. Adele offered to help and was able to do it all while working around her full-time job. She found the time to send out notices, press releases, get paperwork done, and she would do whatever she needed to do to help make Camp a reality. Adele and her daughter, Barb, also volunteered at Camp each summer to get the dining hall ready for mealtimes and to clean up after. 

Children and adults have been able to experience the magic of Camp Good Days because of people like Adele; people who felt that they had a calling to do some good in our community. I often say that the two greatest gifts we can give to one another are our love and our time. Adele certainly gave plenty of both, and I will miss her very much.


Thursday, August 13, 2020

Cancer Doesn't Stop During a Pandemic and Neither Do We

During this time of uncertainty, we don’t know what the future might bring. We have a dream of normalcy that might never come to fruition. At Camp Good Days, we have been using the phrase that one of my staff members created, “Cancer doesn’t stop during a pandemic and neither do we.” At Camp Good Days, we are committed to helping the children and families in our community who need us the most. This time has been very busy despite changing schedules and working with 50% of the staff in the office at any given time, but I am blessed with a dedicated staff who have never been more challenged than they were during these past few months. 

We had our 20th Annual Finger Lakes International Wine & Spirits Competition in July and this year, we really had to follow our motto of “adapt and adjust.” When we were confronted with the COVID-19 pandemic, we had to rethink the whole competition. We still had a lot of entries that had been sent in and we knew we needed to do something. We met with our committee which included our Head Judge, Bob Madill; our Flighting and Results Manager, Teresa Knapp; and our Director of Special Events & Fundraising, Jamie Varble, and came up with some changes. We determined that since we weren’t having the residential summer programs and we couldn’t host the competition at our usual location of the Holiday Inn in Downtown Rochester, we could host the competition down at our recreational facility on Keuka Lake. We had to move the competition from April to July, the judges who were normally asked to participate could not travel out of country or across certain states, and we had to change the format of the competition. There was great cooperation between our staff, judges and volunteers. While there were not as many judges present and not as many wines and spirits entered, we had to marvel at how much support we received.


When we first started the FLIWC, we started it for two reasons. At the time, there were a lot of wineries popping up in the Finger Lakes and many of them felt that their quality wine was not being recognized. Thanks in part, to the competition, the Finger Lakes wines have received more recognition and are more readily recommended by wine professionals and wine enthusiasts. This year, having the competition hosted at our facility on Keuka Lake brought the competition to the heart of the Finger Lakes and emphasized why the competition was started in the first place. By having it at the facility, the judges were able to see what Camp Good Days was all about. A picture is worth 1,000 words but being there in person is even more impactful. It is a great credit to our staff, volunteers and judges that we were able to make it happen. 

This was the 37th year for our annual golf tournament, the Tournament of Love. For the past 15 years, we have been able to host the tournament at Monroe Golf Club. Originally, the tournament was supposed to be held in May and was then rescheduled to August. There were many changes made to accommodate social distancing guidelines including getting rid of the dinner and award portion of the tournament, staggered tee off times, and boxed lunches. Rather than a dinner, we had hors d’oeuvres, cocktails and the clams that are such a hit every year. For me, it was nice to be home around 6:30PM rather than 10PM and I am sure the golfers appreciated the shortened program as well. We will make less money from the tournament this year, and we had less golfers than normal, but we were able to put on a world-class tournament during a difficult time, and we are very proud of that. 


The Buffalo Gala, which is one of our largest fundraisers in Buffalo, was scheduled for April at the Hyatt. We were unable to hold the event in person and so we made the decision to move the event to an online auction. The generous sponsors agreed to let us keep their pledges and we were able to generate a good amount of money through the online auction. 

Camp Good Days does a lot to help children and families impacted by cancer and sickle cell anemia, and all the programs and services are provided free of charge. These programs cost money, some are very expensive, and even though we are not having the in-person programs this year, we hopefully will be able do so next year. These fundraisers have become key factors in us raising the money to fund these programs and services. Despite all of the challenges and the uncertainties that have been presented to us, we have a group of people who all have a common passion and goal, who rose to the occasion to adapt and adjust to raise money for Camp Good Days. 

To make sure that we are still doing as much as we can to help the children and families who need us, we adapted and adjusted our summer programs. We were unable to have the camping programs, so our Junior Good Days program was made into a virtual program, and we will also be having two weeks of virtual programming for the rest of our young campers coming up later this month. This time can be very isolating for our campers and we are trying to do everything in our power to help them know that they are not alone and that their Camp Good Days family is there for them. As I said earlier, “Cancer doesn’t stop during a pandemic and neither do we.”

Friday, July 24, 2020

A Life Lived in the Service of Others

 
*Photo Credit: St. John Fisher College*
 
I was saddened to learn earlier this week that a friend of mine, Father Joseph Trovato, passed away after 30 years of serving the students at St. John Fisher College and the parishioners at Christ the King Church in Irondequoit. He was the college’s first director of Campus Ministry and served in that position the longest.
 
I can honestly say that every time I was able to see him, he would have a smile on his face. He always asked about my daughter, Teddi, when she was going through her battle with cancer and he was always thinking about the children of Camp Good Days. Lou Buttino, a professor at St. John Fisher, helped to start the Teddi Dance for Love and wrote “For the Love of Teddi.” He introduced me to Father Joe many years ago.
 
One of the Teddi Dance for Love traditions at St. John Fisher, the blessing of the feet, happens the Friday before the dance. The head of campus ministry blesses the students as they lay down with their feet in the air. Father Joe always loved this tradition. He would come by to see the beginning of the dance and would also be there at the end to celebrate with the students. A few years ago, the current director of Campus Ministry, Father Kevin Mannara, surprised me by bringing Father Joe to the dance. That was the highlight of that year’s dance for me.
 
The lives that he touched during his time on Earth are immeasurable. He was truly a saint here on earth because he was always concerned about others before himself. He left everyone who had the chance to meet him feeling better from the experience. I’m sure as he enters the kingdom of Heaven, the Lord will say that he was a good and faithful servant who led a good life in service of others.
 

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Moving Forward in this New Normal

 
I hope that you, and your family and friends are doing well during this crazy time of uncertainty. I know for all of us at Camp Good Days, this has been a difficult and stressful time in our lives. It is the first time in 41 years that we will have no summer residential camping programs for the children and families we serve. This decision was not made lightly and has been hard for everyone including our campers, staff and volunteers.
 
On June 27th, it was Teddi‘s birthday. It is hard to believe that she would have been 51 years old. It was a beautiful day in Rochester, so I took flowers to her grave and sat on the bench that I put in a few years ago behind her headstone. I was the only one in the entire cemetery, so I decided to sit for a while and reflect. I started to ask many questions that I will unfortunately never know the answers to: Who would’ve been that special partner in her life? Would she have had or decided not to have children? What would she have done with her life? And what would my life had been like had Teddi not been diagnosed with cancer? I just tried to make sense of these questions and what could have been had my life not changed forever.
 

One of my favorite sayings is something Mark Twain said, “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” For me, I look back on my life and I realize that I have been doing what I was put on this earth to do. I was initially trying to bring children with cancer out of the dark ages and give them the opportunity to get back some of the childhood illness had stolen from them. I am amazed at how far the organization has come after starting as a simple summer camp for Teddi and 62 other children from Rochester, Buffalo and Syracuse, who were all dealing with cancer. I started the camp at a time where few people would accept the idea that a child could have a disease like cancer and still be able to have a camping experience. It was also during a time when people did not care about the quality of the lives of children diagnosed with cancer, they only cared about finding a medical cure. Over the years, the medical side has gotten better and we have had better treatments. As a result, children with cancer live longer than in the past, but there is still a need for places like Camp Good Days where those children can have their recreational and psychosocial needs met.
 
I am pleased that with the help of so many volunteers and a group of truly dedicated professional staff, Camp Good Days has continued to be there for children and families affected by cancer from all over the world. On the shores of Keuka Lake and in the town of Branchport, we have created a very special home away from home for our campers. Over the past 41 years, Camp Good Days has served over 50,000 campers from 22 states and 36 countries, and $.90 of every dollar goes directly towards our many programs and services that we provide. Now, we must address the future and plan for what will become the new normal.
 
We are living during a time that we have never seen before in our history. We are dealing with not only the immense civil unrest but also the crazy pandemic that we are struggling with trying to find answers to. There is no question that both have been totally mishandled and the aftermath will affect us for many years. Thinking of all this, we at Camp Good Days are busy trying to come up with a plan that we can implement for our 2021 fiscal year that will address that new normal while hopefully being able to provide safe and fun programs. I think the most important responsibility that we have is given to us by a child’s parent or guardian who has entrusted Camp Good Days with their child’s safety. As I have told our staff and volunteers every summer during training, we need to make sure that we send the children back home in better condition than when they were given to us.
 
I ended my session at Teddi‘s gravesite the same way I do every day, by asking Teddi to be my guardian angel and to help me make the right decisions for the special organization that I am in charge of, especially now when we have had to deal with so much. I hope that she’s proud of her old man and as long as, in my heart, I feel that she is, we will continue to meet these challenges head-on and continue to advocate for the very special children and families in our community who need us the most.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Adapting and Adjusting During COVID-19

I know that it has been a while since I have written a new blog post; we have been busy with so many things. In these uncertain times that we are all living in right now, I thought it would be important to let you know that Camp Good Days is still here, because people still need our help. Unfortunately, just because we are dealing with this new pandemic, it doesn’t mean that no one will be affected by cancer. People will still come back from the doctor after being told that the pathology report came back and they have cancer. And despite all of our fears of the unknown in regard to the Coronavirus, I am still convinced that a diagnosis of cancer is even more scary, and that a cancer diagnosis creates enormous thoughts, questions, and fears, and I want people to know that we, here at Camp Good Days, are still here ready to help. There will always be someone to talk to.

This is the time of year where Camp Good Days is very busy, and it is when what we do really shines. We are getting ready for our summer camping programs, including our Junior Good Days day-camp program and our residential camps. We are still looking for wonderful men and women to volunteer at the programs and summer staff who we hire to help at the facility during the summer camp season. There will be a new surprise this summer with the addition of a new building at camp—a museum that will house and share some of the history of Camp Good Days while also creating additional indoor space when we need it.

Right now, like everyone else, we are working remotely, but if people leave their name and phone number on the voicemail machine at the office, the appropriate person will get back to them as soon as they can. All staff are also available via email. Eventually, this crisis will be behind us, and we want to be ready to go into full motion without skipping a beat. While this pandemic is forcing us to work in a different way by working from home, the work still must go on. Throughout this time, we will continue to be here for those families that need us. There is no question that these are uncertain times and our summer programs may be impacted depending on what will happen with the remainder of the school year, since we cannot run our programs until summer recess has begun. But, we are truly blessed with a dedicated staff of people who never look at what they do as a job, rather they look at what they do as a ministry, and no matter what their job is, they have a desire to help make a difference in the lives of those we serve, so we are all still here as a resource.
We know that these uncertain times are hard for everyone, especially for many people who have lost their jobs and are struggling financially, but if you have the opportunity, or are able to help, please keep our children and our families in your mind. Our spring special events and fundraisers have been postponed, so we are not bringing in much revenue. At this time, donations are what are helping to keep our programs going, and no amount is insignificant. I was reminded of this when I received a letter a few days ago from Deacon Paul at the Groveland Correctional Facility with a donation from the inmates. The inmates are given 25 cents, 50 cents, a dollar, or more, when they attend mass each week, and when there is enough collected, they choose a worthwhile cause that they would like to make a charitable donation to. They chose Camp Good Days as their charity of choice, and it really meant a lot to me since right now there aren’t a lot of checks that are coming in. This shows you how meaningful and important what we do is. Here are people who have sacrificed the little money they have access to in order to help children and families touched by cancer. Our support comes from many places, but it means so much to me when it comes from people who believe, no matter their situation, that they want to help others. Over the years, thanks to donations like that, we have served around 50,000 campers from 22 states and 36 countries, and we are certainly hoping that we will be able to continue being there for every child and family that truly needs us.
Please know that all of us at Camp Good Days are keeping you all in our thoughts, and please reach out if you need anything.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Losing Two Very Special People

Things at Camp Good Days continue to be extremely busy as we transition from being down at camp to being full-time at our headquarters in Mendon.  Added to the busyness was the recent news that two very special people to Camp Good Days and to me personally had passed away.

Laurie Allinger was one of our original campers.  She was a beautiful young lady who, following her cancer diagnosis, lost one of her arms and all of the supporting tissue around it.  Despite this, Laurie never let anything stand in her way of living life to the fullest.  I will always remember being up at Camp Eagle Cove in the early years and watching the children participate in our archery program, and seeing this beautiful young lady putting the bow between her toes, sitting on the ground, and pulling the string back to shoot the target, and very often making bulls eyes.  I remember her on Canandaigua Lake doing wind surfing by holding the rope in her mouth, with I and many of our volunteers marveling at her enthusiasm and how she would not let anything stand in her way.  If there was a poster child for camp’s first two years, it was Laurie. 



From the very first year, she bonded with my daughter, Teddi, and in fact I still remember the day that they proudly came up to me and told me that they were blood sisters.  Laurie was always there for Teddi.  After the first summer at camp, Teddi had a recurrence of her cancer which caused her to have a lot of challenges.  Teddi was confined to a wheel chair because of the excessive amounts of radiation she went through and she had gone blind because the brain tumor had grown and shut off her optic nerve. Laurie loved Teddi and made a large effort to include her in everything she did, despite Teddi’s unique challenges that she had.  Teddi died from her cancer on February 27th of 1982 and Laurie just died from the side effects and challenges of her cancer in September of 2019.  All those years that Laurie had weren’t always good ones and the illness took a large toll on her body.  It was tough learning about her passing and further learning that her death was not an easy one, but the consolation is that I know that she is in heaven with Teddi and all of the other children and volunteers from Camp Good Days, and that she is no longer in any pain.  I can picture Laurie and Teddi once again renewing their special relationship. 


The second passing I learned about was the passing of Bat McGrath.  I really didn’t know Bat until some of our volunteers had an idea to have a concert featuring some music artists who got their start here in Upstate New York.  Bat was one of the first people who was asked and agreed to do it.  Unfortunately, the concert never happened because of the flooding that had occurred down at camp, resulting in over a half of a million dollars in damages.

Later on, when Bat travelled from his home in Nashville to visit this area, he decided to visit camp and see it for himself. He said that when he was going back home, he had the desire to write a song about Camp Good Days.  One day, my assistant told me that she had received an email from Bat along with a song that he had written about camp.  It was difficult for me to hear it and understand it, so I had my assistant email him back and ask if he could send it to me on a CD.  Bat went out, rented a studio and recorded the song so that I could have a CD version of it.  When I listened to it, I fell in love with it, and I shared it with my staff who also fell in love with it.  So, I invited Bat when he came back the next summer to actually come to camp and see camp in session and play his song, which he did with his wife.  While he was at camp, he said it would be great if we could put a video with the music so that I or my staff could use it when we made presentations about Camp Good Days.  So, Bat made some calls to his friends and he got someone who would be able to create a video for the song.

A few days before Christmas that year, I got a call from the person who put the video together asking if I could come out to their office and see the finished product.  And I have to admit, I was a little taken aback not only because the video was so well done and so beautiful, but because, unbeknownst to me, they had slipped in a few videos of Teddi and I.  I have to say, if I have used that video once, I have used it 100 times and every time I do, I feel so fortunate that Bat came into my life. 

Like many of you, I am sure; I was shocked to learn that he had been diagnosed with cancer last year.  And when I had heard that he was going to play some of his music at Lovin’ Cup, I called one of the owners, Leslie Zinc, to ask if she could get me into the sold out show, and she made sure that Wendy and I had seats at his last concert.  It was emotional to see him because he had lost probably 40 pounds and he was weak, but the showman that he was, he stood and performed for the whole concert, and then he even had CDs available that he sat down to sign for his fans.  Every time I see that beautiful video, I will think of him.

I wanted to write this blog because I think it is important that we recognize these two very special people.  In Bat’s case, we are going to dedicate the music hut at camp to him.  And then for Laurie, we will do a special activity at camp in her honor next summer. 

If you would like to see the video of Bat’s song, please follow this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=biQWpUcRvbY.