Monday, September 21, 2020

A Camp Good Days Pioneer

In October, we will be starting Camp Good Days’ 42nd year. It is crazy to think that over these years, we have served over 50,000 campers from 22 states and 36 foreign countries. This accomplishment would never have happened without some very important people. One of those people was Adele House, who passed away recently.

I have often talked about how special some of the Camp Good Days pioneers were in the early days and how they helped to make Camp Good Days a reality. It wasn’t until 1982 that we had an office and our first paid staff person; in the beginning, we were all unpaid volunteers who had a dream of making a difference in the lives of children diagnosed with cancer. When I had said that I was starting a camp for children with cancer, most people didn’t really understand what I was trying to do or were fearful because the word “cancer” was the most feared word in the English language, and when it was associated with a child, it was too much for people to think about. The friends who were close to me knew what I was going through and when I asked them to help make Camp happen, they did. They were willing to loosen their ties, roll up their sleeves and do what they needed to do to help make the dream come true because they knew children in our community like my daughter, Teddi, were in need. Camp Good Days was the result of their commitment and hard work. 

When Adele became involved with Camp Good Days, she was the secretary to former Family Court Judge, Anthony Bonadio. As those of you who know me are aware, typing is not a skill that I have, and in order to get everything squared away to be able to host Camp including getting out correspondence, setting up meetings, etc., I needed a great deal of help. Adele offered to help and was able to do it all while working around her full-time job. She found the time to send out notices, press releases, get paperwork done, and she would do whatever she needed to do to help make Camp a reality. Adele and her daughter, Barb, also volunteered at Camp each summer to get the dining hall ready for mealtimes and to clean up after. 

Children and adults have been able to experience the magic of Camp Good Days because of people like Adele; people who felt that they had a calling to do some good in our community. I often say that the two greatest gifts we can give to one another are our love and our time. Adele certainly gave plenty of both, and I will miss her very much.


Thursday, August 13, 2020

Cancer Doesn't Stop During a Pandemic and Neither Do We

During this time of uncertainty, we don’t know what the future might bring. We have a dream of normalcy that might never come to fruition. At Camp Good Days, we have been using the phrase that one of my staff members created, “Cancer doesn’t stop during a pandemic and neither do we.” At Camp Good Days, we are committed to helping the children and families in our community who need us the most. This time has been very busy despite changing schedules and working with 50% of the staff in the office at any given time, but I am blessed with a dedicated staff who have never been more challenged than they were during these past few months. 

We had our 20th Annual Finger Lakes International Wine & Spirits Competition in July and this year, we really had to follow our motto of “adapt and adjust.” When we were confronted with the COVID-19 pandemic, we had to rethink the whole competition. We still had a lot of entries that had been sent in and we knew we needed to do something. We met with our committee which included our Head Judge, Bob Madill; our Flighting and Results Manager, Teresa Knapp; and our Director of Special Events & Fundraising, Jamie Varble, and came up with some changes. We determined that since we weren’t having the residential summer programs and we couldn’t host the competition at our usual location of the Holiday Inn in Downtown Rochester, we could host the competition down at our recreational facility on Keuka Lake. We had to move the competition from April to July, the judges who were normally asked to participate could not travel out of country or across certain states, and we had to change the format of the competition. There was great cooperation between our staff, judges and volunteers. While there were not as many judges present and not as many wines and spirits entered, we had to marvel at how much support we received.


When we first started the FLIWC, we started it for two reasons. At the time, there were a lot of wineries popping up in the Finger Lakes and many of them felt that their quality wine was not being recognized. Thanks in part, to the competition, the Finger Lakes wines have received more recognition and are more readily recommended by wine professionals and wine enthusiasts. This year, having the competition hosted at our facility on Keuka Lake brought the competition to the heart of the Finger Lakes and emphasized why the competition was started in the first place. By having it at the facility, the judges were able to see what Camp Good Days was all about. A picture is worth 1,000 words but being there in person is even more impactful. It is a great credit to our staff, volunteers and judges that we were able to make it happen. 

This was the 37th year for our annual golf tournament, the Tournament of Love. For the past 15 years, we have been able to host the tournament at Monroe Golf Club. Originally, the tournament was supposed to be held in May and was then rescheduled to August. There were many changes made to accommodate social distancing guidelines including getting rid of the dinner and award portion of the tournament, staggered tee off times, and boxed lunches. Rather than a dinner, we had hors d’oeuvres, cocktails and the clams that are such a hit every year. For me, it was nice to be home around 6:30PM rather than 10PM and I am sure the golfers appreciated the shortened program as well. We will make less money from the tournament this year, and we had less golfers than normal, but we were able to put on a world-class tournament during a difficult time, and we are very proud of that. 


The Buffalo Gala, which is one of our largest fundraisers in Buffalo, was scheduled for April at the Hyatt. We were unable to hold the event in person and so we made the decision to move the event to an online auction. The generous sponsors agreed to let us keep their pledges and we were able to generate a good amount of money through the online auction. 

Camp Good Days does a lot to help children and families impacted by cancer and sickle cell anemia, and all the programs and services are provided free of charge. These programs cost money, some are very expensive, and even though we are not having the in-person programs this year, we hopefully will be able do so next year. These fundraisers have become key factors in us raising the money to fund these programs and services. Despite all of the challenges and the uncertainties that have been presented to us, we have a group of people who all have a common passion and goal, who rose to the occasion to adapt and adjust to raise money for Camp Good Days. 

To make sure that we are still doing as much as we can to help the children and families who need us, we adapted and adjusted our summer programs. We were unable to have the camping programs, so our Junior Good Days program was made into a virtual program, and we will also be having two weeks of virtual programming for the rest of our young campers coming up later this month. This time can be very isolating for our campers and we are trying to do everything in our power to help them know that they are not alone and that their Camp Good Days family is there for them. As I said earlier, “Cancer doesn’t stop during a pandemic and neither do we.”

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.