Tuesday, 31 August 2004 17:00

Industry provides memories for kids at Camp Mak-A-Dream

Written by Karyn Hendricks
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Director of Marketing and Special Events at Camp Mak-A-Dream Jennifer Benton rattled off a brief history of the camp and its relationship to the collision repair industry like she was talking about her extended family. 

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NABC member Glen Funk and his grandson Travis Swank worked as counselors at Camp Mak-A-Dream this summer.

The story began when Marco Grossi, Craftsman Collision Centers in Detroit, Michigan, met up with camp co-founder Harry Granader at a Ronald McDonald House fundraiser in Detroit. Harry Granader told Grossi about Camp Mak-A-Dream, a camp for young cancer patients, explaining that the camp needed a health center at a cost of $500,000.

Grossi then spoke with National Auto Body Council's (NABC) Chuck Sulkala, Acme Body & Paint, Boston, Massachusetts. Sulkala had just been involved with raising $50,000 for another charity. Grossi told Sulkala, "We need $500,000 to build a health center at this cancer camp in Montana." Sulkala replied: "Why not, it is only another zero?"

And so began the relationship with the collision repair industry and Camp Mak-A-Dream, Gold Creek, Montana. Due in large part to the NABC efforts of raising $500,000, this health center was dedicated on September 18, 2003, and started operations in January 2004.

NABC member Glen Funk and his grandson Travis Swank worked as counselors at Camp Mak-A-Dream this summer.
Camp Mak-A-Dream, founded ten years ago, is part of the non-profit organization of the Children's Oncology Camp Foundation. This camp is the result of the heartfelt dream of co-founders, Harry and Sylvia Granader. The Granaders reside in Detroit and donated 87 acres of their working Montana ranch to start Camp Mak-A-Dream. This cost-free camp is celebrating its 10-year anniversary and has completed the dream for almost 1,700 cancer patients from around the world.
"Everything we do is so worthwhile," Benton reflected. "At camp, everyone is on the same footing," she explained. "No one has to explain their illness." The camp environment offers a safe and supportive haven for these people - a place where they make their own decisions, instead of being overprotected.
Everyone participates
The challenging rope course is a good example. Benton sees the campers look at the course and think, "Do I want to go to the top of the rope course - even though my mom wouldn't let me do it?" Yahoo and off they go. Benton explained that "as long as you are 5' tall you can go on the ropes. Everybody -- amputees, parapalegics -- everyone. The amount of determination is remarkable and the joy is unimaginable."

At teen camp, there is a good chance that campers will return year after year. The fight against cancer can be a very long one. "Hopefully, camp will be the carrot to get them through the year," Benton said, speaking about the health condition of the campers. "With some, it literally gives them a reason to live - something to really look forward to."

The camp has a system to encourage and embrace the strong support system between campers. A full camp is 50 campers, half of whom are active treatment patients, still in chemotherapy and not cancer free. The other half is divided between campers that have finished treatment within the last year and campers that have been treatment-free for two or more years. Benton spoke to the resiliency of the campers. "Some of them have been back three times and they are determined to be joyful and happy!"

Guest counselors
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Glen Funk, formerly of Motor Publications, currently vice president of Trevathan Enterprise, Enterprise Logistics, spent July 5-13, 2004 as a camp counselor at Camp Mak-A-Dream. As a board member of NABC, Funk closely followed the collision repair industry's involvement with the camp's growth.

First hand, Funk saw the difference the health center made to this camp. One young wheelchair-bound camper spent her first day at the health center, as she was weak from her recent (and necessary) chemotherapy treatment. Her first day at Camp Mak-A-Dream was in the health center where she was treated and given a blood transfusion. After a day of treatment, she walked out of the health center and participated in camp activities the rest of the week.

Irony abounds in this story. Initially, David Merrell, president of Enterprise Logistics, was signed up to go to camp with Funk. Memorial Day weekend, Merrell began experiencing severe headaches and was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Due to the severity of Merrell's illness, he could no longer make the trip. Now three months later, fortunately, Merrell is doing well enough to have attended the Collision Industry Conference in Chicago in August.

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The ropes challenge all campers. For safety, a camp counselor is close by to assist. This camper's disabilities did not keep him from the challenge.

When Funk found out Merrell would be unable to attend, he turned to his 18-year-old grandson, Travis Swank, a high school graduate from Bluffton, Ohio. Swank will be attending Northwestern University in Chicago this fall. He is a 6'5" well-mannered, football player, whose gentle and caring demeanor was simpatico with the kids at camp.

"Watching the progress on the health center through NABC created an attach-ment to the project and my heart cried out to be involved,"stated Funk. The idea of working at the camp pulled at Travis' heart strings as well. Grandfather and grandson, together, shared the experience of a lifetime at Camp Mak-A-Dream this past summer.
To become a Camp Mak-A-Dream counselor requires a rigorous and detailed process - an application has to be filled out, a detailed background check is processed and a physical must be passed. According to Funk, "this involves a huge amount of paperwork, including a telephone interview that lasted over an hour. This important process ensures the safety of the campers as well as a great experience for everyone.
This is a cost-free camp. The only requirements for campers are that they bring their medication, spending money (there is a small general store at camp for incidentals), and air fare home. The camp consists of a main lodge - a beautiful rustic building, four camp cabins, and the health center. Each cabin holds twenty campers. The week that Funk and Swank worked as counselors there were 50 campers in attendance. "Fifty people that we gave an unbelievable week to,"stated Funk and Swank. "At Camp Mak-A-Dream everyone takes care of themselves. There are no patients at this camp, just campers!"

Daily routine

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Camper learns the intricacies of archery while enjoying summer at Camp Mak-A-Dream.

Morning starts early at Camp Mak-A-Dream. At 7:00 a.m. there are early activities before breakfast, including fly fishing, hiking and aerobics. Starting the day on a clear crisp Montana morning, standing in a mountain stream, creates memories that will stay with these campers forever. After early activities, everyone heads to the main lodge for breakfast. Every morning each cabin had to do a skit to see who would eat first.

After breakfast, the day's scheduled events continue. There is basketball, rope climbing, wall climbing, archery and more sports. An art building is used for many classes, including jewelry making, pottery and painting. This camp has a huge swimming pool and a game room that includes pool and ping pong tables. Co-founder Sylvia Granader has a weaving room, where students learn the art of weaving from her gentle hands. This is a camp with something for every body.
"After lunch from 1 to 2 p.m.," Funk smiled, "is FOB time - Flat On Your Back for one hour."
Cabin Chat is a time for campers to spend together. Each cabin has its own Cabin Chat in the comfortable "living room" complete with big pillows, overstuffed couches and chairs, and, of course, a fireplace. This is a very personal time, where private heartfelt conversations are opened up and then left in the cabin. Benton remarked that "the campers come from vastly different socio-economic, geographical, racial and religious backgrounds. Cabin chat is where a bond is created that is stronger than anything else."

Evenings at the camp have everyone seated around the campfire, under a beautiful Montana starry night, eating the best camp food ever, S'Mores.

Sharing the experience

Funk gave a presentation about his week at Camp Mak-A-Dream at the Collision Industry Conference in Chicago. His photographs were full of happy faces - children and counselors alike, sharing the experience of a lifetime.

What Glen Funk did is what a lot of us talk about - giving more of ourselves to help others. His presentation to CIC was difficult for him. He had trouble talking without choking up and he couldn't keep from shedding a tear - a picture worth more than a million words. When interviewed, Funk asked that we bring out the positive, the bright side of this experience. And yet in conversation only one time did he ask the question, "What is fair here?"

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The "boyz in the camp" preparing for archery lessons.

The last night at Camp Mak-A-Dream is a talent show. Funk quietly talked about a camper, a young girl completely blind, and how she sang at the talent show. "She has the most beautiful voice I have ever heard."

Powerful closing

At the end of the week, the camp said so long to the counselors in a powerful closing. Camp Mak-A-Dream does not do good byes. Counselors and staff, over 50 people were in a circle. Summer staffer, Sean Brennan, stood up with a very large ball of yarn. Without explanation he threw the ball of yarn to Funk and told him to keep it going. Funk threw to Swank and it kept going. After the ball had been thrown to everybody, the "connection" was complete. Brennan stood in the middle of the circle with his scissors and explained how everyone came to this camp to be connected. "We have become connected and now it is time to disconnect," Brennan explained. As he walked the circle and cut everyone's string, he said,"This piece of string is a gift to you so you can hold so many memories."
"We love what we do," Jennifer Benton glowed. "It puts life into perspective. Cancer patients understand that. We provide a place and opportunity to make any bit of life stronger or better."
The true love and spirit of Camp Mak-A-Dream reaches far beyond Montana and maybe even this earth. One camper requested to be buried in his Camp Mak-A-Dream t-shirt. Another camper became so sick, he had to be picked up by his parents to go home to the hospital. He didn't survive the trip home, but he made sure his mother got his camp pictures back to his friends.

Memories are made at camp. Many of us have cherished camp memories. The memories that Glen Funk and Travis Swank shared with the campers they met this summer are very precious, and most likely, life changing. As Funk said, "when you come to Camp Mak-A-Dream the campers forget they have cancer! I feel lucky in so many ways," Funk modestly stated. "I am proud to be in an industry that believes in this type of project. I am proud of my company, Trevathan Enterprises, which sent me to this camp. I am also honored to have done this with my grandson." Both Funk and Swank plan on returning next year.

Camp Mak-A-Dream never says good-byes. So this story will never end.

Chuck Sulkala presented his thoughts about this camp."Until you have shed your own tears, it's difficult to understand the powerful emotions this experience brings."

Janet Chaney has served in many facets of the collision repair industry. She is now looking after the best interests of her clients from Cave Creek, Arizona. Her email address is janet_chaney@earthlink.net.


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