Friday, July 24, 2020

A Life Lived in the Service of Others

*Photo Credit: St. John Fisher College*
I was saddened to learn earlier this week that a friend of mine, Father Joseph Trovato, passed away after 30 years of serving the students at St. John Fisher College and the parishioners at Christ the King Church in Irondequoit. He was the college’s first director of Campus Ministry and served in that position the longest.
I can honestly say that every time I was able to see him, he would have a smile on his face. He always asked about my daughter, Teddi, when she was going through her battle with cancer and he was always thinking about the children of Camp Good Days. Lou Buttino, a professor at St. John Fisher, helped to start the Teddi Dance for Love and wrote “For the Love of Teddi.” He introduced me to Father Joe many years ago.
One of the Teddi Dance for Love traditions at St. John Fisher, the blessing of the feet, happens the Friday before the dance. The head of campus ministry blesses the students as they lay down with their feet in the air. Father Joe always loved this tradition. He would come by to see the beginning of the dance and would also be there at the end to celebrate with the students. A few years ago, the current director of Campus Ministry, Father Kevin Mannara, surprised me by bringing Father Joe to the dance. That was the highlight of that year’s dance for me.
The lives that he touched during his time on Earth are immeasurable. He was truly a saint here on earth because he was always concerned about others before himself. He left everyone who had the chance to meet him feeling better from the experience. I’m sure as he enters the kingdom of Heaven, the Lord will say that he was a good and faithful servant who led a good life in service of others.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Moving Forward in this New Normal

I hope that you, and your family and friends are doing well during this crazy time of uncertainty. I know for all of us at Camp Good Days, this has been a difficult and stressful time in our lives. It is the first time in 41 years that we will have no summer residential camping programs for the children and families we serve. This decision was not made lightly and has been hard for everyone including our campers, staff and volunteers.
On June 27th, it was Teddi‘s birthday. It is hard to believe that she would have been 51 years old. It was a beautiful day in Rochester, so I took flowers to her grave and sat on the bench that I put in a few years ago behind her headstone. I was the only one in the entire cemetery, so I decided to sit for a while and reflect. I started to ask many questions that I will unfortunately never know the answers to: Who would’ve been that special partner in her life? Would she have had or decided not to have children? What would she have done with her life? And what would my life had been like had Teddi not been diagnosed with cancer? I just tried to make sense of these questions and what could have been had my life not changed forever.

One of my favorite sayings is something Mark Twain said, “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” For me, I look back on my life and I realize that I have been doing what I was put on this earth to do. I was initially trying to bring children with cancer out of the dark ages and give them the opportunity to get back some of the childhood illness had stolen from them. I am amazed at how far the organization has come after starting as a simple summer camp for Teddi and 62 other children from Rochester, Buffalo and Syracuse, who were all dealing with cancer. I started the camp at a time where few people would accept the idea that a child could have a disease like cancer and still be able to have a camping experience. It was also during a time when people did not care about the quality of the lives of children diagnosed with cancer, they only cared about finding a medical cure. Over the years, the medical side has gotten better and we have had better treatments. As a result, children with cancer live longer than in the past, but there is still a need for places like Camp Good Days where those children can have their recreational and psychosocial needs met.
I am pleased that with the help of so many volunteers and a group of truly dedicated professional staff, Camp Good Days has continued to be there for children and families affected by cancer from all over the world. On the shores of Keuka Lake and in the town of Branchport, we have created a very special home away from home for our campers. Over the past 41 years, Camp Good Days has served over 50,000 campers from 22 states and 36 countries, and $.90 of every dollar goes directly towards our many programs and services that we provide. Now, we must address the future and plan for what will become the new normal.
We are living during a time that we have never seen before in our history. We are dealing with not only the immense civil unrest but also the crazy pandemic that we are struggling with trying to find answers to. There is no question that both have been totally mishandled and the aftermath will affect us for many years. Thinking of all this, we at Camp Good Days are busy trying to come up with a plan that we can implement for our 2021 fiscal year that will address that new normal while hopefully being able to provide safe and fun programs. I think the most important responsibility that we have is given to us by a child’s parent or guardian who has entrusted Camp Good Days with their child’s safety. As I have told our staff and volunteers every summer during training, we need to make sure that we send the children back home in better condition than when they were given to us.
I ended my session at Teddi‘s gravesite the same way I do every day, by asking Teddi to be my guardian angel and to help me make the right decisions for the special organization that I am in charge of, especially now when we have had to deal with so much. I hope that she’s proud of her old man and as long as, in my heart, I feel that she is, we will continue to meet these challenges head-on and continue to advocate for the very special children and families in our community who need us the most.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Adapting and Adjusting During COVID-19

I know that it has been a while since I have written a new blog post; we have been busy with so many things. In these uncertain times that we are all living in right now, I thought it would be important to let you know that Camp Good Days is still here, because people still need our help. Unfortunately, just because we are dealing with this new pandemic, it doesn’t mean that no one will be affected by cancer. People will still come back from the doctor after being told that the pathology report came back and they have cancer. And despite all of our fears of the unknown in regard to the Coronavirus, I am still convinced that a diagnosis of cancer is even more scary, and that a cancer diagnosis creates enormous thoughts, questions, and fears, and I want people to know that we, here at Camp Good Days, are still here ready to help. There will always be someone to talk to.

This is the time of year where Camp Good Days is very busy, and it is when what we do really shines. We are getting ready for our summer camping programs, including our Junior Good Days day-camp program and our residential camps. We are still looking for wonderful men and women to volunteer at the programs and summer staff who we hire to help at the facility during the summer camp season. There will be a new surprise this summer with the addition of a new building at camp—a museum that will house and share some of the history of Camp Good Days while also creating additional indoor space when we need it.

Right now, like everyone else, we are working remotely, but if people leave their name and phone number on the voicemail machine at the office, the appropriate person will get back to them as soon as they can. All staff are also available via email. Eventually, this crisis will be behind us, and we want to be ready to go into full motion without skipping a beat. While this pandemic is forcing us to work in a different way by working from home, the work still must go on. Throughout this time, we will continue to be here for those families that need us. There is no question that these are uncertain times and our summer programs may be impacted depending on what will happen with the remainder of the school year, since we cannot run our programs until summer recess has begun. But, we are truly blessed with a dedicated staff of people who never look at what they do as a job, rather they look at what they do as a ministry, and no matter what their job is, they have a desire to help make a difference in the lives of those we serve, so we are all still here as a resource.
We know that these uncertain times are hard for everyone, especially for many people who have lost their jobs and are struggling financially, but if you have the opportunity, or are able to help, please keep our children and our families in your mind. Our spring special events and fundraisers have been postponed, so we are not bringing in much revenue. At this time, donations are what are helping to keep our programs going, and no amount is insignificant. I was reminded of this when I received a letter a few days ago from Deacon Paul at the Groveland Correctional Facility with a donation from the inmates. The inmates are given 25 cents, 50 cents, a dollar, or more, when they attend mass each week, and when there is enough collected, they choose a worthwhile cause that they would like to make a charitable donation to. They chose Camp Good Days as their charity of choice, and it really meant a lot to me since right now there aren’t a lot of checks that are coming in. This shows you how meaningful and important what we do is. Here are people who have sacrificed the little money they have access to in order to help children and families touched by cancer. Our support comes from many places, but it means so much to me when it comes from people who believe, no matter their situation, that they want to help others. Over the years, thanks to donations like that, we have served around 50,000 campers from 22 states and 36 countries, and we are certainly hoping that we will be able to continue being there for every child and family that truly needs us.
Please know that all of us at Camp Good Days are keeping you all in our thoughts, and please reach out if you need anything.