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