Thursday, July 25, 2019

Celebrating a Milestone

This past weekend, we at Camp Good Days celebrated our 40th year milestone with a Reunion Weekend celebration.  In one sense, 40 years sounds like a long time, but in another, it amazes me to think about all that has been accomplished in such a short amount of time.

Wendy and I drove to camp Friday night to make sure we were there early Saturday morning to greet all of the former campers and volunteers who were there to celebrate with us.  I got up early on Saturday morning, made some coffee and went out onto the deck of my cabin.  As I was sitting there, I was reminded of how beautiful it is at our facility and how wonderful the Lord’s creations are.  The sun was shining, the lake was crystal clear and it was the start of a beautiful day.  I was so excited to see how the weekend would unfold and to see old friends, and that made me realize how many people I would not be able to see.  There are so many people who helped to make Camp Good Days possible and I will be forever grateful to them.

One of these people was my brother from another mother, Sal “Skip” DeBiase.  Skip knew Teddi personally and knew what I was trying to accomplish with Camp Good Days.  He shared his printing press and helped to create the flyers and materials I used to help spread the word about Camp Good Days. 

My old boss for many years while I was in government, James Nagle, was another one of these amazing people.  He knew what my family and I were going through and saw how much work it would take to get Camp Good Days started.  He allowed me to make Camp Good Days a priority and supported me throughout the journey.

Ray Cordello became a saving grace for Camp Good Days.  When I was getting Camp Good Days started, I was confident in myself to come up with good ideas and execute them, and get the fundraising under way, but I did not have a strong accounting background and I knew that a successful non-profit needed to have good finance records.  Ray stepped up to the plate and started off as a volunteer to help with the financials and was later employed as our CFO.  I never worried about the state of our financials while Ray was in charge.

Father David Ambuske was like the spiritual advisor for Camp Good Days.  When Teddi had a lot of questions about Heaven and life and death, Father Ambsuke was there to reassure her and offer her spiritual guidance.  When I started Camp Good Days, I didn’t want to force religion on any of the participants, I wanted each person to believe and practice what was most comforting to them.  To be honest, I didn’t want religion to be a large part of Camp Good Days.  After the first few sessions of camp, we had over 20 of the original 62 campers pass away including Teddi.  At that time we had no offices or staff, everyone was a volunteer.  When we got to the Adirondack Mountains that next summer, there was a cloud over everyone.  The volunteers looked for friends from the other cities who were not there, and the campers looked for other campers who were not there.  We tried to get everyone excited for this wonderful week we had been planning all year, but everyone was too sad.  Margaret Register, who I liked to call “Muggs” was a volunteer who had cancer as an adolescent and now helped Camp Good Days.  She came over to me and said, “Gary, we cannot pretend like those children who are not here didn’t exist.”  I told her that I knew that, I just wasn’t sure what we could do to help.  Her answer was that we needed to have a service of remembrance.  This sounded like something that was out of my realm, and so I called the one person I knew could help, David Ambuske.  He was the Executive Director for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children in Monroe County.  I called him and said that I needed him to leave work and come to the campsite; I needed a very large favor.  He left and drove up right away, and he held a service of remembrance for those who were no longer with us.  After the service, we felt like a 1,000 pound weight was lifted off of our shoulders and everyone felt like they were now allowed to enjoy their time at camp.  This ceremony became a tradition.  Every first night of each program, we do a ceremony to remember those we have lost, and every year, Father Ambuske performed the ceremonies until his death. 

Dr. Martin Klemperer came into my life when I greatly needed him. When I realized that I needed a physician to be at the camp in order to properly take care of the children who were attending, he stepped up.  Camp Good Days was the fourth program of its kind in the country, but the first started by a lay-person; all others had been started by physicians.  I had been told that it would be hard to find a doctor who was willing to give up his time to be at a program that he did not come up with himself.  Dr. Klemperer gave up his time to be our primary physician at camp and he truly saw the value of what camp could provide; the psycho-social healing that a hospital could not help.  I can honestly say that without his selflessness and commitment to camp, we would never have been able to serve the over 48,300 campers from 22 states and 36 countries that we have been able to help over these past 40 years. 

The last person I will talk about is Dr. Jack Dadey.  He became involved with Camp Good Days after he and his wife read an article about Camp Good Days in the March issue of McCall’s Magazine in 1982.  I received a beautiful letter from his wife letting me know that as a family, they would like to help.  Dr. Dadey stayed involved with Camp Good Days for the rest of his life.

These are just a few of the people who were involved in helping Camp Good Days get started.  All of them have been called to meet their maker. There are many others from the early years who I have not mentioned, and there are thousands who have helped along the way and leant their time, talent and treasure to help make the miracle of Camp Good Days possible.

After thinking about all of these wonderful people who truly helped to start Camp Good Days, I was excited to see the former campers who were now adults and had families of their own, and the many wonderful volunteers and staff we have had over the years.  Everyone was able to see what Camp Good Days has become.  Some in attendance had never seen the facility on Keuka Lake and were blown away by how beautiful it is.  We had a chicken barbeque, a live band, and fantastic fireworks.  With the help of long-time volunteer, Mike Falvo, and his wife, Marie, we unveiled the time capsule that we dug up from many years before.  It was filled with old items that brought back many memories to all in attendance.  We then added new items from this year, and buried a new time capsule that will be unveiled in the future.  At the end of the weekend, we had a service of appreciation and gratitude that Sr. Francella Quinn led at the outdoor chapel.  We had a farewell circle and sang the Camp Good Days song that was written for us years ago. Everyone said goodbye to each other and our weekend came to an end.

Unveiling the time capsule

Greeting everyone in attendance

 I know that everyone who came to reunion will stay in touch, and I am sure that they cannot wait to see how Camp Good Days continues to grow.  In the future days and weeks to come, I will be remembering the weekend fondly and thinking about all of the wonderful people who help to make Camp Good Days possible.

To stay up-to-date about what we are doing, please follow us on Facebook  and listen to the Camp Good Days radio show on 1040AM and 92.1FM, or listen to the podcast at any time at 

Me with campers and volunteers from the first year of Camp Good Days