Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Project Exile Blog Update

As the Chairman of the Project Exile Advisory Board for the past 16 years, and all that we’ve done to try to remove illegal guns off of our streets, the recent killing of Rochester Police Officer Daryl Pierson shows that, as a community, we still have a ways to go. It is for that reason that I am devoting this blog to talking about what I believe, once and for all, our community can and must do to reduce the number of illegal guns that are out there, and are in the hands of people who have lost their rights to possess them.

First off, every facet of our community, law enforcement, community leaders, elected officials must speak with one voice. I cannot think of a better, simpler message than that of Project Exile: You + Illegal Gun = Prison. It’s something that anyone can understand. What it does for the law abiding citizens in our community is let them know that we take the problem of illegal guns seriously. Secondly, if we can prevent a few people who’ve heard our message from taking a gun that they are not supposed to have on the streets, we can literally save lives.

Our whole community needs to take an initiative and become involved. It’s the same when it comes to our nation’s security; if you see something, say something. All of us have a responsibility, that if we see someone in the possession of a gun, especially a handgun, that we know should not have one, it’s imperative that we let the authorities know. Someone who is underage, out on parole, or on probation, someone with a history of domestic violence, someone with a history of drug or alcohol abuse, or someone that was dishonorably discharged from the military, these people have lost their rights to possess a handgun. If we see someone who fits into one of those categories, in possession of a handgun, we cannot wait until someone gets hurt or it is too late. We need to let the authorities know. It’s not being a snitch; it’s helping to save lives and being a responsible citizen in our community. Also, law abiding residents ought not to purchase a gun through a straw purchase, for someone who they know cannot legally possess a firearm. If someone asks them to do so, they should also report that person to the authorities.

Thirdly, we must encourage all of the legal gun owners in our community to be responsible gun owners. When we ask gun owners, “Why did you want a gun?” the answer is nearly always “to protect themselves and family or business/property.” If that gun is not directly in their possession, it cannot do what its intended use is. Gun owners need not be negligent and leave their guns where they can be stolen. Responsible gun owners do not leave their guns in their car, under their seat, or in their glove-box when they are not in their car. They don’t leave their gun underneath their pillow, mattress, or in their nightstand when they are not in the house. If broken into, these guns turn into quick cash on the street. They are easy to sell due to their size, and often end up in the wrong hands; the hands of criminals. Several years ago, when we looked at the gun problem, here in our community, we learned that over one third of the crime guns were guns that were legally purchased by law abiding citizens, that were stolen, right here, and got into the hands of people who ought not to have them.

Each month, throughout the year, the Project Exile Advisory Board meets, which it has done for the last 16 years. As representatives from law enforcement and prosecutors from the local, state and federal levels, community agencies, clergy, the media, and the general public, it’s representative of our community, that we come together to try to combat this very serious problem. I can personally vouch that the cooperation that exists in this community is rarely seen, not only in this state, but in this country. The result is the Project Exile program has been recognized as an example in Albany, Washington D.C., and in New York City, and throughout the country.

We can make a difference. We need to make a difference. I believe this is the most serious problem facing our community. We need to be one community, and we can be that one community if people come together and make our community a safe place to work and raise a family.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Flood Update

Hello friends,

I know it has been quite some time since my last post. As many of you know, in mid May, Camp Good Days was hit with two floods that came just two days apart. We've been picking up the pieces, but I wanted to give a brief update on the situation at Camp. With a little bit of luck, we will be able to have our 35th Anniversary summer as planned.

Thank you to everyone who has donated, volunteered, called, emailed, and posted on social media to show their support for Camp Good Days. We are #CGDStrong, and we are fortunate to have the friends that we do.

- Gary

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Wine Time!

We are into crunch time here at Camp Good Days, as we are not only in the process of preparing the Recreational Facility for all of the summer camping programs and obtaining all of the permits in order to operate our programs, but we also have some special fundraising events coming up.

Over the past 14 years, the Finger Lakes International Wine Competition and Wine Auction Dinner has become the largest fundraising event in the Greater Rochester area to benefit the children and families we serve. The 14th Annual Wine Auction Dinner will take place on Saturday, May 3, 2014 at the Rochester Plaza Hotel, 70 State Street, Downtown Rochester. This exciting evening will begin with a Wine Tasting, Silent Auction & Live Auction Preview at 5:30 PM, and the Auction Dinner at 7:00 PM. Once again this year, Matthew Chung will serve as the Lead Auctioneer and Rich Funke will be our Master of Ceremonies.

The 14th Annual Finger Lakes International Wine Competition, which was held March 29 & 30, 2014, was a resounding success. More than 3750 wines were entered into the Finger Lakes International Wine Competition. These entries came from 940 wineries, including 120 New York State wineries, from 21 different countries around the world, all 50 states and six Canadian Provinces.

THANK YOU to all the amazingly dedicated volunteers. To everyone who helped out this weekend, I cannot thank you enough. We cannot do what we do without our volunteers, and especially this weekend. Whether you washed glasses, uncorked wine, poured it, tasted it or made the bourbon s’mores, you contributed to another fantastic year at the Finger Lakes International Wine Competition.

Also, special thanks to Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who stopped by Sunday afternoon to see what the wine competition was all about, meet some volunteers, and welcome our judges to New York State.

All of the wines were evaluated by a world-renowned panel of judges representing distributors, educators, enologists, sommeliers, restaurateurs, winemakers and writers from all over the United States and around the world. The judges awarded Double Gold (unanimous), Gold, Silver and Bronze medals and the medal winning wines will be featured at the Wine Auction Dinner, along with a delicious meal, great friends and conversation, and fabulous silent and live auction items.

Tickets to attend the Wine Auction Dinner are $150.00 per person and can be purchased by calling Camp Good Days at 585-624-5555 or online via www.fliwc.com or www.campgooddays.org.

If you love wine, this is the event you want to attend. Tickets would also make a fantastic gift for that special someone. In addition to having a wonderful time and tasting some of the best wine in the world, you will leave that evening knowing that you have helped to create some good days and special times for some very special children and families.

In addition to the Wine Auction Dinner, we will host the 31st Annual Tournament of Love Golf Tournament on Tuesday, June 3, 2014 at Monroe Golf Club, one of the premier clubs in the Rochester area. Monroe Golf Pro Jim Mrva is this year’s Honorary Chair, and it will truly be a special day. We’ve shifted the Tournament of Love to benefit our Women’s Oncology Program, and this year, golfers can play with a PGA club pro!

There are a few remaining Sponsorship, Advertising, and Participation options available for the 31st Annual Tournament of Love and more information is available by contacting Nicole Jones at Camp Good Days, 585-624-5555 ornjones@campgooddays.org, or online at www.campgooddays.org.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

A Night of Gratitude!

There are few places in which you can bring together a group of people, of varying age, race, gender, and life experience, and have them all be there for the same reason – to make a difference in the lives of those less fortunate. I have been so blessed over the past 35 years that Camp Good Days is one of those rare places. We have had thousands and thousands of volunteers and supporters over the years that have all come to Camp Good Days with one common goal – to improve the quality of life for children and their families whose lives have been touched by cancer.

Thanks to Scott Pitoniak for being a great emcee for the event! 

Each year, we honor some of these men and women who have truly gone above and beyond in helping us to fulfill our mission at our Annual Night of Gratitude. Some 300 guests including our honorees, their families, friends, and other volunteers and supporters of Camp Good Days gathered together at the Rochester Plaza in downtown Rochester.

During A Night of Gratitude, we recognized those individuals selected as recipients of the Teddi Award, named in memory of my daughter, Teddi, the inspiration behind Camp Good Days, who are all people who throughout the course of 2013 gave above and beyond to the children and families at Camp Good Days.

THANK YOU to all of our Teddi Award recipients for all they did to help Camp Good Days and CONGRATULATIONS on your Teddi Award! The Teddi Award winners were: Michaela Altobelli, Velma Campbell, Alyssa Ciliberto, Stephanie Clark, Gregory Connors, Paul Vecchio and Dave Murray, Ben Eisenhunt, Ismael Figueroa, Isabele Henry, Ben Higgins, Chrissy Judge, Katie Judge, Cheol Kessler, Christopher Keyes, Andrew Knoblauch, Gail Koch, Patty Lent, Keara Lowenhar, Connie Marrow, Jeffrey Musial ,Lauren Naramore ,John and Evelen Nobrega, Matt Park, Rich Randall and The Rochester Lancers, Lou Spiotti, Kelsey Thomas, John Trojanowski, The Valenti Family, Leslie Zinck and Erik Ward, April Wright, and Samantha Zagskorn.

We also recognized those selected for induction into the Camp Good Days’ Ring of Honor. The Ring of Honor was established as part of Camp Good Days’ 25th Anniversary Celebration in 2004 and includes those who are selected for their outstanding dedication, commitment and support of the thousands of children and families served over the years. In addition to their award, inductee’s names will be included in the permanent Ring of Honor display, which is located at the Camp Good Days’ Recreational Facility, in Branchport, NY, for all to see.

The Ring of Honor Inductees are: Jean Bartholomew, Melinda Cooper, Kim and Tony DiChario, Deb Gollus, Judy and Merrill Greenstein, Otto Harnischfeger, Annie Zimmerman and Joe Benedetto, Jill and Richard McPhee, Laura Osborn, Tom Reed, Pete Sidari, Lynne and Randy Stiefler, Gary Sullivan, Bunny Vahue, Jay and Jay Jay Vanderstyne, and Allison Wright.

Words are not enough to express the years of volunteer service and astounding financial support these inductees have given to the children and families at Camp Good Days… CONGRATULATIONS to all of our Ring of Honor Inductees and THANK YOU for everything you have done and continue to do to help Camp Good Days!

Over the past 35 years, Camp Good Days has served more than 45,000 campers from 22 states and 29 foreign countries! We have received the coveted Four-Star Rating from CharityNavigator.org and we have been inducted into the Safety 1st Hall of Fame by Markel Insurance Companies. The only reason we have been able to do this and that we are able to continue all that we do is because of the support we receive from so many, like all those selected as Teddi Award recipients and inductees into the Ring of Honor.

It has been said that the two greatest gifts we as human beings can give to one another is our time and our love…all of those we recognized and honored at A Night of Gratitude have given so much of both and they are truly so very much appreciated!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

FM Dance Marathon

The Fayetteville Manlius community means so much to Camp Good Days. Not only do they raise a significant amount of money for our programs, but they provide some of the best volunteers/staff that CGD has during the summer. This past Saturday I had the pleasure of speaking during the 23rd Annual Fayetteville Manlius Dance Marathon. 

The FM Dance Marathon is a classic example of kids helping kids. It's truly gratifying seeing the students giving it their all for our campers, many of which they will never meet. It refreshes your belief in our youth, and I'm truly proud of the job they did. Over 15 campers attended the Dance Marathon, and they had a blast with the FM students.  

At Camp Good Days, you see the human spirit soar. It's been said that CGD can renew your faith. Seeing all the students at the FM Dance Marathon being so selfless and promoting the mission of Camp Good Days was extremely inspiring. We cannot express enough how much the $105,000 you raised will help our programs. Thank you for another job well done! 

Thursday, February 27, 2014

32nd Annual Teddi Dance For Love

Wow! What else can I say?
Sixty-three thousand, six hundred and fourteen dollars. What the Teddi Dance For Love committee does every year in honoring Teddi’s legacy is truly remarkable. Thank you to Jenny, Olivia, and the rest of the committee for everything this year.
This year, the Dance For Love was something that I really needed. I had just found out prior to the Dance For Love that my close friend, Chris McVicker, who was a longtime friend to both myself and Camp Good Days, had passed away. The Teddi Dance is somewhere that I can always count on to put a smile on my face, even in the toughest of times. The impact of the Dance For Love is something that is impossible for me to convey how much it means.
What a touching tribute to Sam Parker, who was a former Courage Bowl Honorary Coach. I'm sure Sam was smiling down on you all as you danced through the night.
Dr. Lou Buttino, who started the Teddi Dance For Love, said that “immortality is being loved by anonymous people.” Thanks to the Dance For Love, students who have been born well after Teddi passed away, have been able to keep her memory and spirit alive. To me, as a dad, what greater gift could you ever give?
When I see the Mastercard commercials saying, “Priceless,” when the committee chants “Teddi, Teddi, Teddi,” for me, it is priceless.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Chris McVicker - You Will Be Missed

Camp Good Days and Special Times mourns the loss of Chris McVicker, longtime member of our Board of Directors. More importantly, the families & children of Camp Good Days and I lost a very special angel this weekend.
How do you describe a genuinely good person? Chris was the Chairman/CEO of the Flanders Group, a business that he built over the past 30 years. He was someone you could always depend on. His actions spoke much louder than his words.

There has never been a time where I went to Chris for help and had to ask twice. He was always there for us. Chris was a gentleman in every sense of the word. He was a good husband to his wife Bernadette, and a tremendous father to three young ladies that he was so proud of. He was a good boss to his employees, and someone who was a true asset to our entire community.
Chris will be missed by all those whose life’s he touched in big and small ways. He made the world a better place for everyone who had the opportunity to get to know him.

Rest In Peace, Chris, you will truly be missed.
Chris and his wife Bernadette were Honorary Chairs of the 30th Anniversary concert featuring Ronnie Millsap.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

New Year's Blog Post

I hope that everyone had a joyous Holiday Season and a great start to 2014. Two-thousand and fourteen represents a very special year, here at Camp Good Days, as we are celebrating our 35th Anniversary Year… I have spent much time reflecting on the past 35 years, during which we have served more than 45,000 campers from 22 states and 29 foreign countries. In addition, many of the programs and services started right here have been used as models for other cancer treatment centers and organizations around the world. Everything that we have done and continue to do is about improving the quality of life for children, adults and families whose lives have been touched by cancer and other life threatening challenges. We’re proud to be preparing for our 35th camping season, and hope you’ll join in on some of the fun we’re planning for 2014!

We had a very successful Holiday Season at Camp Good Days, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank the JC Penney Managers and Employees at Marketplace Mall, Greece Ridge Center Mall, and Eastview Mall, as well as the Rochester Lancers, City of Rochester, the Walden-Galleria Mall in Buffalo, Destiny USA in Syracuse, and Old Navy at the Shops at Ithaca, as well as all of the volunteers and those who helped to support Camp Good Days and Special Times’ Annual Joe Benet Memorial Kazoo Fest this Holiday Season. While funds were down a little overall, we’re thrilled to have raised $86,772 at Kazoo Fest in 2013. We hope to see everyone who volunteered this year at Kazoo Fest again next year!   

On the Monday after Christmas, we got all the Rochester campers together for some Holiday fun at Ellison Park. With the help of Otto Harnischfeger, we filled the cabin to the brim with fun and festive Holiday decorations. We planned out many holiday games and prepared with both indoor and outdoor events. The day could not have been better if we scripted it. About 50 campers in the Rochester area gathered, and the location provided an intimate setting for our campers to reunite. They played games, and even had some special visitors. Santa and Mrs. Clause came in a limo, and were escorted by the Monroe County Sheriffs. The kids loved petting Santa’s reindeer after they got their gifts from Santa as well!


On New Year’s Eve, we attended the City of Rochester’s New Year’s Eve Celebration. We had tables set up at the Riverside Convention Center, and it was great to be at the event with a huge crowd and a number of family friendly activities. Joining us was Bill Benet, whose father, Joe, started Kazoo Fest some 68 years ago just a few blocks from where we were, at Sibley’s Department Store. It is amazing to see this holiday tradition still going strong so many years later, and what a blessing that this event benefits the children and families at Camp Good Days. The evening concluded as I was invited to join Rochester Mayor, Tom Richards and City Council Vice President, Dana Miller, to speak about the Rochester community, which was then followed by a beautiful fireworks show.
Myself, Deputy Mayor Leonard Redon, and Former Mayor Tom Richards.

Longtime volunteers Dort and Mike selling kazoos on New Year's. Thanks!

If you found yourself making a resolution to volunteer this New Year’s, I would encourage you to look into our programs. I often feel like a sergeant in the military and all he’s looking for is “a few good men and women.” If you’re interested in making an impact in the community this year, take a look at our programs and services. We’re always looking for new people to make an impact in our organization, and you can learn about the many opportunities we have right online. (http://www.campgooddays.org/Volunteer/)

With the start of the New Year, we are actively pursuing our goals and objectives. We’re excited to commemorate this achievement throughout our events during 2014, and will incorporate our new poster, painted by Steve Christie, former Place Kicker for the Buffalo Bills, at all our events.

As many of you know, special fundraising events are vital to Camp Good Days, as they provide the means for us to continue keeping the promise I made 35 years ago - that all of our programs and services would be provided free of charge for the participants, so as not to create any additional financial burden on those families served.  Oftentimes, especially when a child is diagnosed with cancer, one of the parents (if the child is lucky enough to have both parents in their life) becomes the primary caregiver and must cut back their hours at work.  With that, the family income decreases, yet the bills remain the same, and I never wanted a family to have to make the decision between sending their loved one to Camp Good Days and paying their bills.  There are very few things that are the same price today as they were in 1979 – that price being free.

The 32nd Annual Teddi Dance for Love will take place Friday & Saturday, February 21 &22, 2014 in the Student Life Center at St. John Fisher College. I often think to myself, “Where else can you find 100 people gathered on Wednesday night’s at 9:30 PM to help and plan a fundraiser other than on a college campus?” This 24-hour dance marathon is planned and implemented by a student committee at the college and raises funds to support the Teddi Project, here at Camp Good Days, providing the funds necessary for us to be able to take campers on special outings and activities, and on the Annual Florida Fun Fest. The Teddi Dance for Love is one of my favorite times of year; a time when you see firsthand the true meaning of love, hope, and giving.  Each and every year, I continue to be amazed by the hard work, dedication and devotion displayed by the Teddi Committee, all of the participants, volunteers and supporters, and the overall St. John Fisher College community.  As Teddi’s Dad, all those involved with the Teddi Dance for Love help to keep my daughter’s spirit and memory alive.  There are truly no words to express my gratitude for that special gift they give to me. 

We’re also gearing up for the Fayetteville Manlius Dance Marathon. On Wednesday, January 8th, 2014, 12 members of the Fayetteville-Manlius High School Class of 2014 will take the stage of the school’s auditorium with the responsibility of officially kicking off fundraising for the 23rd Annual Fayetteville-Manlius Dance Marathon (FM DM), that will take place on Saturday, March 1st, 2014.  These 12 remarkable students have been nominated as MC’s, and head up the fundraising efforts for FM DM.  The students start working on FM DM as soon as school starts in the Fall (although they’re already excitedly discussing next year as soon as the Dance Marathon ends in March), and after this official kick off for the entire student body, will work tirelessly right through until the event in March. 
Over the years, the students and FM Community have raised well over a million dollars for Camp Good Days; last year alone their efforts totaled over $125,000.  The funds they raise with their 12-hour dance send hundreds of children touched by cancer to summer camp each year.  But the best part is, they don’t just send them – they’re at camp right along with them.  Dozens of Fayetteville-Manlius High School students, current and former, volunteer as summer camp counselors each summer, some offering weeks of their time.  For a group of high school kids to unite an entire community and raise over $100,000 is simply amazing.  But for so many of them to volunteer their time during summer camp and throughout the year at every single event in the Syracuse area, that’s beyond words.  We are more than honored that this community comes together this way to help Camp Good Days, and are so grateful to be going into the 23rd year working with this incredible group of people.

I recently went back through my blog posts, and came across one written on January 3rd, 2008. It referenced when we opened up our Recreational Facility in 1989. One of the attendees of the ribbon cutting ceremony 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 eluding us in the battle against cancer would be found.

I’m excited about the progress that is being made. Through the efforts of CANCER MISSION 2020, we have now entered the CALL TO ACTION Phase.  I am excited to announce that Congressman Tom Reed has introduced legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives, which is sponsored by Congresswoman Louise Slaughter and Congressman Chris Collins, which strengthens the enforcement mechanisms of the requirement to publicly report results of cancer trials and research conducted with federal grant money. The goal of the legislation is greater sharing of cancer research results in the search for a cure to cancer. You can view HR 2301 and support it directly on our website at http://cancermission2020.com/images/BILLS-112hr5283ih.pdf.

Keep in touch with Camp Good Days in 2014. ‘Like’ our page on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter (@CampGoodDays). Tune in to the Camp Good Days’ Radio Show on 92.1 WYSL FM/1040 AM the first Thursday night (6:30 PM) of every month to hear about what’s new at Camp Good Days.  If you are outside of the listening area, you can get the podcast of the show at http://wysl1040.com

My next blog post will feature an in depth look at the 32nd Annual Teddi Dance for Love, and also touch on our Annual Night of Gratitude, one of my favorite nights of the year.

Additionally, one of my personal goals for 2014 is to be more consistent with these blog posts, in an effort to keep you all up-to-date.  Sometimes it can be a bit difficult, as you can tell from the number of different programs, events, activities and efforts we are involved with – but I promise to do my best.