Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Holiday Season

The snow has started to fall and the Holiday Season is just around the corner, which means it is time for Camp Good Days’ Annual Joe Benet Memorial Kazoo Fest, which will begin on Friday, November 28th and go through December 23rd. We are so pleased to have the support of JC Penney in Rochester; Best Buy in Syracuse and Corning; and the Walden Galleria Mall in Buffalo.

I hope you will all stop by one of the Camp Good Days’ Kazoo Fest locations while you are out doing your holiday shopping and pick up your kazoo, candy cane pen, holiday ornament and other great gifts and stocking stuffers, and help us continue this holiday tradition. In addition to finding some great gifts, you will also be able to pick up some information about our many programs and services and our volunteer opportunities. Check out for your areas’ Kazoo Fest dates and times.

The Holiday Season is a chance to reflect on the year past and count our many blessings. One can choose to see the glass as half empty or half full, and as difficult as times might be, with challenges both large and small, I am so thankful for the many blessings we have had at Camp Good Days, and the thousands of women and men, young and old, who have helped to make Camp Good Days all that it is today.

One of my favorite sayings is from Satchel Paige, who was a pitcher in the old Negro Leagues, (and I am paraphrasing here), “Don’t pray when it rains if you don’t pray when the sun shines!”

As we each make our resolutions and plans for the New Year, I hope your plans will include the children and families at Camp Good Days, either through a year-end tax deductible donation, a more significant gift through estate planning, or a donation of time by volunteering.

I am truly excited for the coming year, as we will be celebrating the 30th Anniversary Year for Camp Good Days. Think about that…30 Years of Brining Love to Life for more than 41,000 campers from 22 states and 25 foreign countries!

If you have been a part of our family here at Camp Good Days, THANK YOU, we couldn’t have done it without you! If you want to become a part of our ever-growing family, we welcome you with open arms!

Wishing each and every one of you a joyous Holiday Season and a New Year filled with good health, peace, happiness, and much love!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


How do you go from the top of the mountain to the bottom of the valley in less than 24 hours? This past weekend was one that will stay with me for a long time to come.

This past Saturday was a beautiful evening at Fauver Stadium on the campus of the University of Rochester where Courage Bowl IV, the annual football game between the St. John Fisher College Cardinals and the University of Rochester Yellowjackets, was played. The Courage Bowl has truly become more than just a football game, and thanks to the Administrations, Coaches, and Players from both teams, a true community event.

This year, 10 special children from Camp Good Days were selected to be an integral part of this exciting event. The six Honorary Coaches and four Honorary Cheerleaders had the opportunity to be a real part of a college football game. The six Honorary Coaches, three with each team, attended practice with their teams last Friday afternoon; joined their teams for the pre-game meal and travel to the game; led their teams onto the field, where they joined the Team Captains at midfield for the coin toss; and spent the game on the sidelines with their teams. The four Honorary Cheerleaders, two with each squad, also attended a practice last week and met their squads to get dressed, do their hair and makeup for the game, and cheered on their teams from the sidelines.

Courage Bowl IV was an exciting game for the nearly 5000 fans who attended, as well as for those who watched the game live on WROC TV-8 or listened live on WYSL News1040AM and Sports Radio WHTK 1280AM. It was truly a remarkable and memorable evening of courage!

I left the game on Saturday night knowing that the special children from Camp Good Days had created memories they would cherish for years to come and the hope that the players and cheerleaders enjoyed the opportunity to grow as individuals and help those less fortunate than themselves.

I went to bed feeling really good but on Sunday morning, my wife, Wendy, told me that she had received some sad news and I could not believe that Denny Dutton, one of our original campers when I started Camp Good Days 29 years ago, and one of our true heroes, had apparently lost control of his motorcycle on Saturday afternoon and had died. I sat on the edge of my bed and called Denny’s wife Sharon, only to hang up the phone and bury my head in the pillow and cry.

Denny was an extraordinary young man. He was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor when he was an adolescent, only a few years older than my daughter, Teddi, was when she was also diagnosed with a very similar malignant brain tumor. Teddi and Denny had the same radiation oncologist, Omar, at Strong Memorial Hospital and at that time there was a very popular television show, The $6 Million Man. Omar told me that Denny’s chances for survival were more than six million to one. Denny survived his brain tumor, but that battle was not without its gains and setbacks, pains and joys. Denny was told that one of the side effects of his treatment was sterility and that he would probably never be able to father children.

As was the case with all that Denny did, he defied the odds, got married and was the father of two beautiful daughters that he and Sharon have raised to be lovely young women. Denny worked at Xerox in Webster and by all accounts was a loving dad to his daughters and a loving and supportive husband to his wife and Denny is my hero. Denny continued to be a part of our Camp Good Days’ family over the years through his support of many events, volunteering when he could, and sharing his story with all those who would listen.

As I look back over my life, I have been blessed to have met many famous people from government leaders, Presidents, corporate and business leaders, athletes and entertainers, but my true heroes are the extraordinary young people, like Denny, I have met through my work as Chairman & Founder of Camp Good Days; young people who through no fault of their own have been dealt a difficult hand in life and have every reason to be mad at the world and walk around with a chip on their shoulder, but not these kids. What they have taken from their battle with cancer is to make everyday special, make everyday the gift that it is, and to live each day to its fullest. They don’t have the time for mundane nonsense that many of us allow ourselves to get bogged down with and ruin our days.

To be sure, Denny lived and marched to the beat of his own drummer and the only satisfaction I have from his untimely and tragic death is that he died doing something he loved – riding his motorcycle on a beautiful, sunny day.

Denny Dutton is probably someone you have never heard of…but he is my hero and someone that will be truly missed by all those who knew and loved him.

Friday, July 25, 2008

More Summer Reading! Standing Tall by Vivian Stringer

I am always picking up and reading books on a variety of topics, but ones that I pick up the most often are those that are inspirational, many of them coming from people within the world of sports. A few months ago, while taking a break in Orlando, I had the opportunity to read, Standing Tall: A Memoir of Tragedy & Triumph, by C. Vivian Stringer and Laura Tucker.

Vivian Stringer is truly a remarkable woman…she is the only coach in history to take three different teams to the NCAA Final Four, most recently with her team at Rutger’s University, where she is the Women’s Head Basketball Coach. She has been a member of the United States Olympic Team Coaching Staff and has received numerous awards, honors, and accolades for her exemplary coaching and leadership.

What most don’t realize is that she is also a remarkable wife, mother, and cancer survivor. Having lost her husband much too soon, she raised her three children, including her youngest daughter, Nina, who has 24-hour care requirements, on her own, and battled breast cancer. Coach Stringer was plunged into the national spotlight, following the remarks of radio show host, Don Imus, and she led her team through that controversy with the utmost in grace, integrity, and dignity.

All of us at Camp Good Days and many supporters and community members had the opportunity to personally meet Coach Stringer and hear firsthand from her about her life’s work and the many tragedies and triumphs she has gone through. Coach Stringer was the Special Guest at the Talkin’ Basketball Dinner on Friday, July 11th, which kicked off our Annual Teddi “T” Sports Fest. Coach Stringer was everything and more than we had hoped for, especially for those of us who had previously read her book. She is an exceptional woman, mother, wife, coach, and leader and one of the members of the sports community who parents would be proud to have their daughters look up to.

It was a wonderful opportunity to have met Coach Stringer and I would encourage all of you to take a little bit of time in the few remaining weeks of summer and pick up a copy of Standing Tall: A Memoir of Tragedy & Triumph, as I know you will be just as impressed with Coach Stringer as I was!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Last Lecture - A Must Read This Summer!

There is a tradition at Carnegie Mellon University where they invite a retiring professor to deliver “The Last Lecture” to students and share some of their wisdom, experience, and suggestions for living one’s life. Recently, the university invited Randy Pausch to give “The Last Lecture”, not because he was retiring in the normal sense, Randy is dying…battling terminal cancer.

We have all heard courageous stories from a variety of sources and situations, but Pausch offered his students, and more recently the world, a vision for living, despite his diagnosis and battle. His Last Lecture was meant for an auditorium of students, fellow faculty, and staff, but has reached the world at large, with more than one million views on and through the new release of his book, “The Last Lecture”.

As we all prepare for the coming summer months, and hopefully some warmer weather, during which we might take a little extra time to catch up on some reading at our cottages, at the beach, or in our own backyards, I encourage each and every one of you to devote a few hours of that time to reading “The Last Lecture”. It is a short book, but one with a large message of honesty, integrity, hope and courage.

After reading the book, I thought, as I often do, how I would react in the situation Pausch is facing. Do we really and truly want to know every little detail that doctors provide to us, which they are bound to reveal given our litigious society, including how much time they think we might have left on this earth? With all of the information in hand, would I be able to wake up each morning and be grateful for the time I have been given and spend each day doing all that I can with my family and working to leave this world a better place than I found it or would I awake each morning terrified that it is one less day and that this in fact, might be it?

It has been interesting over the years to see the differences in which other countries and cultures deal with this information and their patients. I have been fortunate enough to have had the pleasure of meeting and spending time with children and adults battling cancer and their medical chaperones from more than 20 different countries, through our Doing A World Of Good Program, here at Camp Good Days.

“The Last Lecture” gives us the gift of a glimpse into one man’s life, loves, and struggle to find and be a part of living each day to its fullest, no matter how many or how few there are left. Pausch’s last lecture, although meant to be for the students, is truly a legacy he leaves his young children and his beautiful wife, but thankfully one that has also been shared with the world, and one that everyone could benefit from.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Looking for Answers...

Watching the news last week, I listened to the candidates for President discuss completely irrelevant things while most of the citizens of this country are concerned about keeping their jobs, securing their retirement funds, sending their children to college, having adequate health insurance and the general state of the economy.

When are these candidates going to share with us what their plans are going to be for one of the most important issues, which is finding the answers that have been eluding us regarding cancer? In the next year alone, 600,000 of our mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and our children will lose their battle with this horrible disease. 1.7 million people will face the diagnosis and subsequent battle with cancer this year and one in every two men and one in every three women living today will face a cancer diagnosis in their lifetime. Cancer is the leading cause of death for those 80 years old and younger and cancer does not impact just the individual diagnosed, but all of those who love and care about them.

Our government is not visionary, but reactionary and it will not be until we as citizens and constituents demand that our money be spent on finding the answers we have been seeking for years. Only when threatened with the potential loss of votes will our government representatives, at all levels, react.

As we focus on our choices in the coming elections, we need to start asking now what our representatives at all levels of government are going to do to find the solution to cancer.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Volunteer This Summer!

As the days become a little bit longer and those of us in Upstate New York can see the light at the end of the tunnel and anticipate the relief from snow, sleet, and bitter cold, many of us start to think about the coming spring and summer months and our plans for warmer weather.

I invite you to become a part of our family here at Camp Good Days by volunteering with one of our summer residential camping programs. If you have ever considered volunteering, but were unsure as to how to take the next step and wondered what you could contribute, I encourage you to sign up for Camp Good Days’ Project Feel Good, which will be held at the Headquarters & Volunteer Training Center on Saturday, April 12, 2008. At Project Feel Good, you will have the opportunity to learn about the many volunteer opportunities available with Camp Good Days and meet other volunteers and staff members who will be able to answer all of your questions and address any concerns you might have. You will also be able to learn how to take the next step in your volunteer efforts and sign up for a session of our residential camping programs. And…don’t worry! Training is provided for all of our volunteers so you will be equipped with all of the skills and information you need to make the most out of the experience!

Oftentimes after I have spoken to a group about Camp Good Days, people will approach me and say that they would love to get involved with Camp Good Days but that they think it would be far too emotional to volunteer with one of our camping programs or they think that they do not have something special to offer. I always feel bad when people say this, as I know they are truly missing out on something very special and uplifting.

When Jim Valvano was in the end stages of his battle with cancer, he was selected as the second recipient of the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the ESPYs. He was so weak that he needed to be helped onto the stage by Duke University Men’s Basketball Coach, Mike Krzyzewski and Dick Vitale, the great commentator. After his acceptance speech, he was asked by one of the media personalities how he was able to continue, being so sick. His response (and I am paraphrasing for sure) was that everyday he tried to laugh…at himself and at the world. Everyday he tried to learn…something about himself and something about the world. And everyday he tried to bring his emotions to the point of tears…either tears of joy or tears of sadness. Valvano said that if everyday you could achieve those three things, you would have a pretty full day.

The one thing I can promise you, as a volunteer at Camp Good Days, you will experience a number of full days during which you will have the chance to laugh, at yourself and with others; you will have the chance to learn a little bit about yourself and about others; and your emotions will be brought to tears, sometimes tears of joy and sometimes tears of sadness. It will be an experience you will never forget and will be one of the best things you do this summer!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Annual Florida Trip & The Dance for Love

Over the years, as Chairman & Founder of Camp Good Days, I have been blessed to have been able to take part in our Annual Florida Trip each year, during which we take a group of campers from Camp Good Days to experience the magic and fun of Orlando in Central Florida. This year, the majority of our campers on the trip were between the ages of 8-12 and had not been to Orlando recently or ever. In addition, a group of young adults dealing with cancer joined the trip. These young adults, part of a program we started last summer, were between the ages of 18-27.

We also had a representative from the Dance for Love Committee join our trip. The Dance for Love, held each February at St. John Fisher College, has raised thousands of dollars over the years to help support the Teddi Project at Camp Good Days, which helps to make this annual trip possible. A few years ago, we decided to invite one of the Dance for Love Committee members to attend the Annual Florida Trip, so that they could bring back their photos and experiences to share with the rest of the committee, as they get ready for this very special event.

The 26th Annual Dance for Love will be held this weekend, Friday & Saturday, February 8th & 9th in the Field House at St. John Fisher College and is open to the public. If you are free between the hours of 7:00 PM – 8:00 PM this Saturday, I encourage you to stop by St. John Fisher College and restore your faith in the future as you will see all of these young people who have dedicated 24 hours of their time and love to help those less fortunate…the children at Camp Good Days.

The Dance for Love Committee has been hard at work planning, since a week after last year’s Dance for Love, and more than 400 people are currently registered to dance. Even though it is always so very cold outside, wherever the Dance for Love is held on the Fisher campus, it is so very warm inside. The Dance for Love is a place where the students, along with some of the faculty, staff and administration, come together to celebrate life to the fullest, with some of the campers from Camp Good Days who have learned to appreciate each and every day and the gifts that many of us, so often, take for granted. As Teddi’s Dad, they also give me something that words can’t describe. As Dr. Lou Buttino said in his very special book, For the Love of Teddi, ‘Immortality is being loved by anonymous people.’ During the Dance for Love, Teddi’s spirit is alive and well and I know that she has touched the lives of all those students, faculty, staff and administrators, who in some way or another have been a part of this special event over the past 26 years.

We all headed to Orlando last month, on Thursday, January 17th, in order to take advantage of the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday so that those in school would miss one less day. Despite the overcast and chilly weather, the group visited Daytona International Speedway; put their feet in the ocean; visited Universal Studios; as well as Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom and Magic Kingdom. Because of the time of year and weather, the parks were not very crowded and everyone had the chance to do all they wanted in the various theme parks.

It is hard to explain in this blog what it is like to see a young person on their very first airplane ride or to see their faces light up when they enter the attractions or when they step into the ocean for the very first time. That experience is etched in my mind forever and on those days when you might question what you are trying to do and whether you are truly making a difference in people’s lives, it is memories such as those from this trip that spark the enthusiasm and passion to continue working to fulfill the mission of Camp Good Days.

I would be remiss if I did not thank my dear friend, Wayne Meisenzahl, who was completing his own treatment for cancer, and wanted to give children touched by cancer the opportunity to experience firsthand, the magic of Central Florida. The Annual Florida Trip has continued because of the generosity of Ms. Germaine K. Hess, one of Meisenzahl’s clients, who left a bequest to Camp Good Days, through an estate, specifically to ensure that Camp Good Days will be able to continue providing the Annual Florida Trip. Wayne’s son, Tim, also helps to ensure that this trip is possible.

The Sugarman Smiles Fund also made a portion of this trip possible, particularly for the young adults with cancer. The Sugarman Smiles Fund was established at Camp Good Days by local businessman, Gary Sugarman and his family, and is a wish-fulfillment program for those dealing with cancer, over age 18. The Young Adult Program was started, in part, through the Sugarman Smiles Fund, as this was a group that fell between the cracks because they are at a different point than children with cancer or adults with cancer. The Young Adult Program brings together these special young people so they may see that they are not alone in their battle and in the issues they face such as relationships; insurance; careers; and so on. Through the Sugarman Smiles Fund, we were not only able to take these young adults with us on the Florida Trip, but we are excited to be expanding the Young Adult Program this coming summer.

Please take a moment and check out all of the photos from our Florida Trip in the Photo Gallery section and I look forward to seeing many of you at the Dance for Love this weekend!

Best Regards,

Gary Mervis
Chairman & Founder

Friday, January 18, 2008

Thoughts for the New Year

With all that is going on in the world and in our community today, it would do us all some good to not take for granted all that we have and count our blessings, and make this New Year one of hope, faith, and the belief in miracles. As Chairman & Founder of Camp Good Days and Special Times, for the past 28 years, I have had the chance to see the very best of the human spirit, through our programs for children battling cancer, and the very worst of the crime and violence in our community, through our Partners Against Violence Everywhere (PAVE) Initiative and my role as Chairman of the Project Exile Advisory Board.

Children with cancer wage a daily battle with life. These special children have done nothing to cause their disease and they carry no chips on their shoulders about the hand in life that they have been dealt. They learn at a very early age to say what they mean and they know not to put off until tomorrow what they can do today. They grow up very quickly; and they know the true meaning of living life to its fullest. I could tell you thousands of stories about these extraordinary survivors, who are real-life examples of hope, faith, and the belief in miracles, but I will share with you just three. These three individuals are just a few of the ones who give me my strength and inspiration everyday.

Denny was a young man who was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor, the same kind of brain tumor that my daughter, Teddi, was diagnosed with, and in fact, Denny and Teddi shared the same radiation oncologist. Their doctor once described Denny as the $6 million man because his chances of surviving his battle with cancer were six million to one. While life has not always been easy for Denny, as he has had many hospitalizations and surgeries over the years, he is one of the real miracles. Denny was told that as a result of the cancer and treatments, he would be sterile and unable to father his own children. Today, Denny is married to a wonderful wife and they have two beautiful daughters.

Danny is another example. All Danny ever dreamed of being was a professional firefighter, following in his father’s and older brother’s footsteps, who were members of the Rochester Fire Department. Danny was diagnosed with cancer during high school and was repeatedly told that he would never be able to fulfill that dream, as no one knew how to deal with someone who had been treated for childhood cancer and no one thought he would be able to handle the rigorous academy. I was so pleased to have attended Danny’s graduation from the Fire Academy and to see how proud his father and brother were as he walked across that stage. Today, Danny continues his career with the Rochester Fire Department and most recently was featured in a newspaper article, in which he was credited with helping to save someone’s life.

The third example is Nate, who comes from a beautiful family in the town of Greece. Nate was one of our youngest campers that first summer at Camp Good Days, as he was only seven years old. Nate went on to graduate from high school, obtain his degree from Alfred State College and is now employed full-time by Monroe Community College. When Nate became too old to come to Camp Good Days as a camper, he volunteered each summer and was also a member of our Summer Staff, serving as a true inspiration to the children with whom he worked. I have been so impressed with Nate over the years, and how he has dealt with his diagnosis and treatment for cancer, that I even recommended he become a member of the Camp Good Days’ Board of Directors, on which he now serves. Most recently, at the Camp Good Days’ Annual Holiday Party, Nate was inducted into the Camp Good Days’ Ring of Honor, which is the highest honor bestowed by Camp Good Days on those who have gone above and beyond in their support of the children and families we serve.

As we celebrate these real-life miracles, we must also take the time to reflect upon the past year and make our resolutions for the New Year. I hope that you will all join me in praying for the brave men and women serving our country and who were not able to be home with their families this Holiday Season, as they are protecting our way of life and the many freedoms we enjoy. We should also pray for the brave men and women who are protecting us right here at home in our community; the men and women of law enforcement working everyday to combat the crime and violence. Despite all of the technological advances that we as a society and community have forged, it is amazing that in 2007 so many people chose to use a gun to deal with their stress, conflict or disagreements. The number of homicides we witness, in a community of our size, is not only intolerable, but should be inexcusable to all of us who are law-abiding citizens.

I ask each of you to make one of your resolutions to share any information you may have about a crime or about someone in possession of an illegal gun with law enforcement, before we have any more heartache and devastation to families in our community. To be sure, Project Exile, which was brought to our community in 1998 to remove illegal guns from our streets, will continue to be proactive in working with law enforcement and will have a new series of billboards and materials featuring the You + Illegal Gun = Prison message, as well as the message of: If You See Something Go Down…Stand Up, along with the 428-GUNS phone number, which can be used to anonymously report illegal guns. When all is said and done, the men and women of law enforcement can not solve this problem alone, they need our help.

We can all help to make our community the very best that it can be in this New Year; not only a safer place in which to live, work, and raise our families, but one that is filled with hope, faith, and the belief in miracles.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

The War on Cancer

After many years of moving around like a band of gypsies, Camp Good Days and Special Times cut the ribbon on our very own Recreational Facility, on the shores of Keuka Lake, in Branchport, New York, in 1989. During the Ribbon Cutting Ceremony, one of the attendees asked me what I wanted to do next…I replied that I wanted to close Camp Good Days, as I truly believed that at some point, during my lifetime, the answers that had been alluding us in the battle against cancer would be found. I believed that parents would no longer have to go against the laws of nature, as my family and I had to do, and bury their children. Since starting Camp Good Days 29 years ago, I have been to more funerals than most people, with the exception of clergy members.

Yet, 29 years later, we still do not have the answers. Unfortunately, my wish, to see those questions answered during my lifetime, is not likely to come true. The advances that have come about can not be credited to new, more effective drugs or compounds to be used in our battle against cancer, but rather on lifestyle changes, the most beneficial being eliminating smoking.

It is time that this country woke up and took a hard look at the way that money is spent, under the umbrella of cancer research. We need, as Dr. Sidney Farber wanted many years ago, a highly coordinated, concentrated effort. Not one that is parochial and sporadic.

Donald S. Coffey, who served as President of the American Association for Cancer Research once said, “If we really want to defend against the terrorism of cancer; we need to attack it with a real war effort.” Cancer is terrorism…brought against our mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, and too often, our children.

The war our country is fighting overseas, the war on terror, is one in which we can’t identify our opponent, we don’t know who or where they are, yet this effort has been given a blank check and millions and millions of our dollars are going towards this fight. We can increase our security measures, but we can’t make a targeted attack on terror.

This in no way translates into disrespect or lack of support for the brave men and women who put their life on the line everyday, serving our country. In fact, Camp Good Days has been an ardent supporter of those in military service and their families, providing a special program, Operation Blue Skies, for those children who have a parent serving with the US Military in conflicts overseas.

Unlike the war on terror, cancer is an enemy that the majority of us will face personally, whether it is our own diagnosis or that of a family member, friend, or colleague.

Cancer as the enemy…

If you are 85 or younger, cancer is the leading cause of death in this country.

One out of every two men and one out of every three women will face a cancer diagnosis at some point in their life.

Everyday, 1500 Americans are dying from this disease, which not only takes your life prematurely, but oftentimes seems to have to humiliate you in the process.

Deaths from cancer are as if one of the twin towers is falling every single day, 365 days a year.

If you factor in inflation, the amount of money going to the National Cancer Institute to fight this disease has been reduced two years in a row.

Only one out of every 10 cancer grant applications is funded.

The number of post-doctorate fellows doing cancer research has been reduced and the budget for clinical trials has been reduced anywhere from 5-8%.

If you are between the ages of 30 and 70 and you find a lump or you see your doctor because you are not feeling well and they send you for additional tests, if you are honest with yourself, when you close your eyes that night, you are far more afraid of being diagnosed with cancer than you are of being a victim of a terrorist attack.

Cancer is an enemy that touches all of us, whether directly or indirectly and an enemy that this year will kill 600,000 of our mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and in far too many cases, such as my own, our children.