Heavy rains in Western New York have done significant damage to a camp that provides a respite for kids and young adults touched by cancer.
Camp Good Days and Special Times in Branchport experienced more than $160,000 in damages in last week’s floods in and around Penn Yan, in Yates County, and that number is expected to climb as workers continue to assess the camp. The damage was so catastrophic that the camp has had to cancel its first sessions of the spring.
“[We’ve had to cancel] our Young Adult Retreat,” said Claire McKenney, Camp Good Days’ Central New York regional director. “This retreat is for young adults ages 18 to 39 who have been diagnosed with cancer and/or undergone treatment for cancer within the past five years. We have a family retreat in a couple weeks that we will have to cancel, as well.”
McKenney said it would likely take at least a month to clean up the mud, water and debris.
“We may have to take an entire camper cabin down,” she said. “It’s so sad. The creek that neighbors our camp was literally running through two of our cabins.”
Fortunately, the rain has stopped, but the risk for other complications remains.
“Now we run the risk for mold, and hopefully the foundations to our buildings are not too damaged,” McKenney said. “We’ll see as it dries out. We’re sure the drywall will have to be redone in many of our buildings.”
The camp was founded in 1979 by Gary Mervis after he watched his daughter, Teddi, suffer from the loneliness and isolation of being the only child in her group of friends dealing with cancer. Mervis took Teddi and 60 other children with cancer from Rochester, Buffalo and Syracuse to a camp he rented in the Adirondacks, and he kept the camp going after Teddi passed away. Since its inception, the Camp Good Days has served more than 43,000 campers from 22 states and 28 foreign countries. The camp now serves children who have been diagnosed themselves with cancer, children who have a parent or sibling diagnosed with cancer and children who have lost a family member to cancer. There’s also a weekend retreat for women, men and young adults who have dealt with a diagnosis, as well as a brain tumor family retreat for families in which a member is dealing with a malignant brain tumor.Among its programs are summer overnight programs, retreats, support groups, day camp and day trips around Western and Central New York. Camp Good Days serves about 1,500 campers a year. All programs are free of charge.
McKenney said those programs canceled due to the flooding will be rescheduled, but it seems an inauspicious beginning to the camp’s 35th anniversary year.
“It’s especially tough to start off our camping season this way. Those who were looking forward to a weekend to bond with other adults who understand what they’re going through, I’m sure, are truly disappointed,” she said. “[It’s] so hard to have to tell them they can’t go, as our campers look forward to their time at camp all year long. But we plan on running all of our programs, even if we have to change the dates. We won’t let the kids miss camp.”
That can-do spirit is prevalent among Camp Good Days’ supporters, as well — more than 300 people have already contacted the organization to volunteer time, donations and more to help get the camp put back together.
“Knowing camp, it will be up and running as soon as possible,” Mary Dwyer wrote on their Facebook page (Facebook.com/CampGoodDays79). “Camp will survive. Campers have been through worse.”
Indeed, a little mud and water seems like nothing when you’ve faced down a cancer diagnosis.
“Camp Good Days and all our supporters are tough — we’ll rebuild with all the incredible people that will help get camp back in operation and even better than before,” McKenney said. “It’s just a test, and in the end we’ll be stronger. Although this is devastating, and is so upsetting to see, it’s incredible how it’s bringing people together and encouraging a spirit of volunteerism and generosity. We just can’t thank all those who have stepped up to support us enough. It’s humbling, and we are so appreciative.”
To volunteer to help or ask about donations, call (585-624-5555) or email Amanda Anderson (firstname.lastname@example.org). You can also send a donation to the camps main office at 1332 Pittsford Mendon Rd, Mendon, NY 14506. An online fundraising page has also been set up to help: firstgiving.com/campgooddays/camp-good-days-flood-relief. Staffers are also in need of gift cards to places like Lowe’s, Home Depot and Target, as well as food or grocery store gift cards to feed the volunteers.
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.