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Review for Camp Good Days & Special Times, Inc., Mendon, NY, USA

Rating: 5 stars  

Dear Friends, It is my honor and privilege to share with you my family’s experience with Camp Good Days and Special Times. I’d like to give you a glimpse inside a bereaved cancer family and the impact that Camp can have on a family like ours. Six years ago, I knew nothing of Camp. I had heard little bits of information here and there, from publicity. I had a vague idea that Camp had something to do with cancer. Maybe that is the reason that I chose never to look further into Camp. After all, who wants to think about cancer? On February 2, 2003, our middle child, three-year-old Natalie, was diagnosed with stage IV neuroblastoma, an extremely aggressive form of childhood cancer. Natalie was extremely ill at the time of diagnosis, therefore my husband, Bob, and I both stayed at the hospital with her, 24/7. This left our younger son, Erik (then 2 ½ years old) and our older daughter, Emily (then 6 ½) in the care of their grandparents. Emily was especially close to her little sister, and was terribly unhappy during our long absence. Natalie’s social worker suggested the services of Camp Good Days to help Emily cope with the situation. Em’s first camp activity was going to Chuck E. Cheese in May of 2003. My husband stayed in the hospital with Natalie, while I took Emily to Chuck E. Cheese. I watched Em run and play with her counselor. I tried to figure out what was so different about Emily that evening. Then it hit me. For the first time in months, Emily was smiling! Emily was actually happy!! In June 2003, Natalie’s cancer worsened despite the fact that she was in treatment at the time. Our family decided to try one more round of chemo drugs to buy a little time. Em, Erik and I were scheduled to go to the Camp Good Days family picnic on Saturday, June 14, 2003. Originally Bob was planning on staying home with Natalie. But Natalie woke on that day feeling relatively good. We called the hospital for blood work results. Unexpectedly, Natalie had a high enough white blood cell count to be safe around people. Camp staff was more than happy to accommodate our bigger-than-expected party at the picnic. Natalie had a great time – a really and truly good day. She got her face painted, decorated cookies, got a special balloon fishing pole with a fishie balloon from a talented balloon artist, made tons of crafts and even won a gift basket. We knew that Natalie’s time was limited, so we made the most of the next few days. We celebrated Father’s Day and went to the Zoo. All the photos from these precious few days show the same, smiling Natalie, wearing the same deep golden yellow camp shirt. Natalie had so much fun at Camp that she refused to take her camp t-shirt off for several days. She saved her name tag sticker from the picnic, and we still have that sticker today. Natalie died on June 30th, 2003, only sixteen days after attending Camp. Our family will never forget the special times we all shared that day. After Natalie died, we assumed that we’d no longer be eligible for Camp services. We were very wrong. Camp is one of the few agencies that continues its services after the child dies, which can be the most difficult time for a family. Camp was there for us shortly after Natalie passed away, giving us a memento keepsake box to hold Natalie’s most treasured items. The box is in her bedroom and contains her pacifier, the charm bracelet from her doctor, and the Cinderella lip gloss given to Natalie by one of her favorite nurses at the hospital. The middle drawer of Natalie’s dresser still holds her neatly folded camp t-shirt. Camp was there for us when I just couldn’t decorate eggs for Easter in 2004. Easter egg coloring had always been a special tradition, and I simply couldn’t do it with one child missing, even though the remaining children really wanted to. Can you imagine the surprise and sense of relief when my kids showed me their ‘treasures’, including colored eggs, when leaving the Camp Easter party? My guilt was gone. I was no longer a “bad mom”, just a sad mom and that was okay. Camp was there when it was Natalie’s fourth birthday, and she was no longer on earth to celebrate it with us. Camp gave us a beautiful angel memorial gift on a day that few others in our family even dared to acknowledge. Camp was there for our daughter during her illness. Camp was there for us when our daughter died. Camp was there for us, both bereaved parents and bereaved siblings, as we struggled through the dense grief fog of fresh and recent loss. And Camp remains here for our entire family each and every day as we remember Natalie and as we continue to live a ‘new normal’ life without her. Our family considers the volunteers at camp to be incredibly selfless people, saints, in a manner of speaking. Erik especially loved Camp Good Days Junior Day Camp, which he attended each summer, until this year when he turned eight and went to "big camp" (overnight camp). Some of his day camp counselors had taken their summer vacation time from work in order to volunteer at camp. When I tell them how grateful I am, they tell me that they get much more from the week than the campers do. It is hard for me to imagine that, or to comprehend their kindness and the sacrifice of their time. Our family also thinks about Camp’s supporters and benefactors. Most of these are anonymous, nameless and faceless people to us. Still, our family remembers all of them and includes them in our prayers. We’ve been told that people admire us for ‘doing well’ in our circumstances. I’m not sure about that, or about the definition of ‘well’. I just know that we have done better with Camp than we would ever do without Camp. I hate cancer and all that it does to families. I am deeply saddened that the disease exists and that there is a need for Camp and its services. I use my energy and effort to help find a cure. But, for now, there is cancer. So every day I thank God for Camp Good Days. Sincerely, Diane, mom to Emily, Erik and angel Natalie

I've personally experienced the results of this organization in...

my family and many others, and have encouraged others who qualify to join. Life is pretty rough when you lose a child to cancer. Camp helped me, my spouse and my remaining children to continue on.

If I had to make changes to this organization, I would...

continue the awesome work they do. I bet lots of families would be willing to represent Camp to try to get some increased awareness in the community. Who could possibly resist donating to these fantastic kids if they saw Camp in action?

What I've enjoyed the most about my experience with this nonprofit is...

seeing sick kids and kids who have an ill family member smile and laugh and really have fun, despite their circumstances.

The kinds of staff and volunteers that I met were...

caring, selfless, and fun. I never worried about my kids in the care of these people. They are competent and dedicated. Most of all, they know that these kids need a break from their woes, so they know how to help them just be kids again and have fun.

If this organization had 10 million bucks, it could...

My daughter just wrote a composition about this very topic. She wanted to go on "Deal or no Deal" and win $1mil and give it all to Camp so that more kids can be served and so that facilities can be expanded - like a waterpark on site at overnight camp!

Ways to make it better...

my younger daughter lived long enough to become more involved in Camp.

In my opinion, the biggest challenges facing this organization are...

financial. This is a tough economy. Also, people don't like to hear or even think about cancer, as if that will make them more suseptible to the disease. People find cancer depressing, and I think that makes them try to avoid thinking about Camp.

One thing I'd also say is that...

I understand the financial limitations of this organization, and i think they do a great job with what they have to work with. I just wish there were more locations so more families could benefit. If not that, I'd surely settle for a cure for cancer!

When was your last experience with this nonprofit?


Role:  Client Served & Our entire family benefitted, as described above.