Bess Cohn Humanitarian Award Nominee - Pirates for a Day
Learn About Happiness Is Camping
Association volunteers brighten the summer days for needy campers.
Tucked away in the small town of Hardwick, NJ, is an overnight summer camp called Happiness is Camping. For the 400 boys and girls, ages six to 15, who attend the camp every year, summer days are spent enjoying activities such as swimming, boating, ropes courses, arts and crafts, movie nights, pizza parties and nighttime campfires. If this sounds like the typical summer camp experience, it is, except that each of these 400 campers happens to have been diagnosed with cancer.
Founded in 1980, Happiness is Camping provides children who have cancer with a free, overnight camping experience. The camp is supported by donations and fully staffed with doctors and nurses from prestigious medical centers, along with counselors and camp staff who all volunteer their time summer after summer just to see the campers smile.
For the past 12 years, The SAAGNY Foundation has sent volunteers to the camp to organize a highly anticipated day for the kids called "Pirate Day," with this year's event taking place in July.
"Kids schedule their stay at camp around 'Pirate Day' and they look forward to it every year," says Eric Rackoff, Account Manager-Northeast/Tri-State for Staples Promotional Products (asi/120601), who also is the Event Chairperson for the Happiness is Camping event.
"Pirate Day" activities include a scavenger hunt, carnival, arts and crafts and a karaoke contest. The day concludes with campers cashing in points they earned throughout the day on toys and games, all with help from the SAAGNY volunteers who are decked out in pirate costumes. Every camper also walks away with a goody bag filled with items donated by suppliers in the ad specialty industry.
For many SAAGNY volunteers, helping with the Happiness is Camping event hits home. "My sister and brother both died from cancer when they were kids many years ago," says Rackoff. "Back then, there was no such place that took kids in for the summer who were still in treatment. My family does all we can to give back to kids with cancer."
Having the act of giving back ingrained into his soul from his father, Rackoff inspires others around him to do the same. He brought his children and coworkers at Staples Promotional Products to the camp for the past few years to volunteer along with him. "The kids are so appreciative," he says. "It really hits your heart."
Another SAAGNY volunteer has watched many members of her family battle cancer as well. "My husband had cancer when he was a teenager and attended a very similar camp during and after his treatment," says Lisa Folts, account manager at Norwood & BIC Graphic North America (asi/40480). "He is the strongest person I know, so I wanted to give back for all that was done to bring him into my life."
The first-time Happiness is Camping volunteer heard about the event through SAAGNY and had always wanted to attend. After spending the day with the campers, she says she cannot wait to come back.
As the "Pirate Day" festivities went on, the SAAGNY volunteers realized that cancer was never on anyone's minds throughout the entire day. The campers laughed, played, had fun, and most importantly, were treated just like typical kids.
"My husband wrestled for his high school wrestling team during the time he had cancer and has always told me that the only thing he wanted during that entire time was to be treated and live as 'normal' as possible," says Folts. "I was happy to be that person for them for a day."