ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Some of the most hurt by the COVID-19 coronavirus crisis are non-for-profits in Rochester.
Inspired by the partnership between United Way of Greater Rochester and the Rochester Area Community foundation, News 8 is producing a series of stories showing what a different non-profit does, how the crisis affects them and how people can help.
The United Way has launched the “Community Crisis Fund,” to allow rapid deployment of resources to help non-profits impacted by the virus outbreak.
Camp Good Day and Special Times has a simple mission: “to improve the lives of children and families who were touched by cancer and sickle cell.”
Founder Gary Mervis started the camp 41 years ago, after his youngest daughter Teddi died after a brain cancer diagnosis.
“My life or my family’s life has never been the same,” Mervis said.
His job working for the state legislature took him out of town multiple times a week, which took him away from his family life, even though all of his work was to help his children live healthy and productive lives.
“Never in my wildest imagination did I ever think I would be waiting for my daughter to come out of seven hours of a craniotomy, only to be told by the neurosurgeon they couldn’t get it all and wanted to start eight weeks of radiation,” he said.
After that, he said he “selfishly” wanted to be Teddi’s source of care and comfort, and wanted to spend as much time as possible with her, and to “get to know his little girl.”
“I realized that the toughest part of Teddi’s battle wasn’t the treatment,” he said. “It was the loneliness.”
He says Teddi was the only one in her entire elementary school who was dealing with cancer. She would even spend nights crying to her father about what she had done to make God so mad that he was punishing her.
“I’d walk into the bathroom and break down crying,” he said. “She’s looking to me to help her understand, and I don’t understand what was doing on.”
With some friends, and some inspiration from a Michigan doctor who would bring childhood cancer patients for outdoor recreation, he started the camp, wishing he could provide Teddi with the same experience.
Since they have opened, the Camp Good Days model has been copied and adapted by programs all over the world.
What do you do?
Mervis said the camp served almost 50,000 campers from 22 states, and 36 different countries. While the camp was originally designed for young kids, the programs are now open to:
- Children with cancer or sickle cell anemia
- Children who have a parent or sibling with cancer or sickle cell anemia
- Children who have lost a parent or sibling with cancer or sickle cell anemia
- Women and men with cancer
- Parents with a child who has been treated/diagnosed with cancer or sickle cell anemia
Most of the camps start in late June, and are still scheduled to start then. They have offices in Rochester, Syracuse, and Buffalo. They also have year-long support programs.
“We divide our year into two parts,” Mervis said. “From the 1st of November to the end of May, that’s concentrated on fundraising, recruiting and training our volunteers, our staff to work our camp, plan our programs.”
There are still three events listed in May, including the yearly Courage Ball.
Mervis says that they also have support programs throughout the year, and of course, there’s also the Teddi Bowl, where two Rochester-area college football teams square off, and kids can be part of an “All-American dream.”
They also host host fundraising events like the 20th Annual Wine and Spirits Competition.
How has the crisis affected you?
“I made a promise to myself when I was in the hospital with Teddi,” he said. “I realized that even if other families had good benefits, one of the family members had to stop working. Their income would go down, but the expenses stayed the same.”
“I didn’t want any family who was struggling to also go through the financial anxiety,” he said. “So I said all the programs and services we provide would be provided free of charge.”
Mervis points out that the camp is in fact, quite expensive. So the fundraising is integral. “This is something that you never thought could happen,” he said.
These spring months are filled with special events, so, quite simply, they have no dollars coming in right now. They have to depend on people’s discretionary income.
“We’re very fortunate to have a great group of dedicated of volunteers and staff,” he said. “We’re trying every way we can to things they can do from home, so they can continue to get their paychecks.”
“And when this is over, we want to hit the road running,” he said.
What can people do to help?
“The first thing is trying to keep our children, their families, and Camp Good Days in their prayers so we can get through this crisis,” he said.
People can donate here. The organization is now also taking donations through Venmo and CashApp, to better facilitate online giving.
They can also follow this link to volunteer after the crisis ends.