Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A New Sense of Hope

Along with millions of Americans, I watched intently as our new President presented to Congress for the first time, his response to the enormous challenges we face as a nation, as well as to spell out his priorities for his first term in office. This was truly an historical moment, as it was the first time in history that an African American male has served as President and delivered his speech with the first female Speaker of House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, and his white Vice President, Joe Biden, behind him.

President Obama made full use of his oratorical skills that the good Lord blessed him with, and did what the President should and must do in times of crisis, which is to be the cheerleader for the American people and provide hope. However, the President, nor the members of Congress and the Executive Branch, can overcome these challenges alone. All of us, male, female, young, old, white, black, brown, and yellow, need to do what Americans have always done, put our petty issues aside and come together to face these challenges.

President Obama’s speech was also historical for me, both personally and selfishly, as this was the first time in my memory, since Richard Nixon in 1971, that I have heard a President say that it is a priority to cure cancer in our lifetime! For the past 30 years, I have dedicated my life with the help and support of so many people, to the founding and building of Camp Good Days and Special Times. Over the years, Camp Good Days has served more than 41,000 campers from 22 states and 25 foreign countries and many of the programs and services started here have been used as models for other cancer treatment centers and organizations all over the world.

While nothing we do at Camp Good Days will find a cure for cancer, I have seen what the diagnosis of cancer can do, both emotionally and financially, to the person battling this horrible disease and their family. I have been to more funerals than anyone should ever go to, because of this disease that will kill some 600,000 Americans this year and more than seven million people around the world. One out of every three women and one out of every two men will face a cancer diagnosis in their lifetime and for those under the age of 80, cancer is the leading cause of death.

It has been my dream that during my lifetime, I would no longer have to watch parents go against the laws of nature and bury their children, as I did, and instead children should be burying their parents after a long and prosperous life. After watching and listening to President Obama, I turned off my television and I went to bed with a new sense of hope!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Celebrations & Tribulations

Two-thousand and nine represents a very special year, here at Camp Good Days, as we are celebrating our 30th Anniversary Year…30 Years of Bringing Love To Life! Despite this significant milestone and celebration I had hoped that during my lifetime I would not have to go to anymore funerals where parents were burying their children, as I had to do. I had hoped that things would be as they should be where children would be burying their parents, following a long and fulfilling life.

This past January, during a two-week period, myself and all of us at Camp Good Days had to deal with the loss of three very special campers. Two bright young men, Zach and Adam, were participants in our Young Adult Program and should have had their whole life ahead of them, and Marilla, one of the very special participants in our Women’s Oncology Program, all lost their battle to cancer. This illustrates that while we have made progress over the past 30 years, we still have a substantial way to go in our battle against this ruthless disease, which knows no boundaries. Not only does cancer take your life, but it is as if it has to humiliate you while doing so.

I recall back in the early 90s, hearing the news that a beautiful young lady, who also should have had her whole life ahead of her lost her life to a senseless, horrific act of violence. Jennifer, while a student at St. John Fisher College, had participated in the Annual Dance for Love, an event that supports Camp Good Days, of which the students at Fisher will host the 27th Annual Dance for Love this coming weekend, February 6th & 7th. Upon hearing the news of Jennifer’s death, I felt compelled to do something, because as I will be the first to admit that finding the elusive cure to cancer is very difficult, there must be something that we, as a society, can easily do to stop the senseless acts of violence. So, with the help of many friends and colleagues in Greater Rochester, as we had done with Camp Good Days, we formed the Partners Against Violence Everywhere (PAVE) Initiative. The PAVE Initiative sponsors a variety of programs and activities, such as the Sharing & Caring Program, for children who have lost an immediate family member to homicide; Memorial Services, to remember those we have lost to violence; the Teddi “T” 3-on-3 Basketball Tournament, to provide youth with a positive activity in a safe and supportive atmosphere; and Project Exile, a joint law enforcement and community initiative to remove illegal guns from the streets of our community. According to statistics from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms, Project Exile has helped to remove nearly 10,000 guns (pistols, revolvers, and derringers) from the streets of our community, since its inception 10 years ago. One can only imagine the pain and devastation these illegal guns could have caused had they remained on the streets of our community in the hands of those who ought not to have them.

This past weekend, on the last day of January, came the news that one of Rochester’s finest, a young Police Officer who was doing his job to help keep our neighborhoods safe, was shot in the back of the head, and according to reports is fighting for his life. Here again, we have quite a ways to go and this horrible act of cowardice should be a warning to our community about where we are and how far we have to go. We need to combine all of our community’s efforts and resources and deliver one clear message that we will not tolerate this violence any longer. If people are in possession of an illegal gun, this community will send them to prison. NO EXCUSES…NO EXPLANATIONS!

I hope that each of you who reads this looks into yourself for ways in which you can help Camp Good Days and our community this year. Make a commitment to make a difference and please keep the Rochester Police Department Officer Anthony DiPonzio and the children and families at Camp Good Days in your prayers.