In addition to hosting Lighthouse-sponsored volunteering opportunities for our employees through the Partners Give Back program, Lighthouse offers each full-time employee Volunteering Time Off, or VTO, to participate in nonprofit activities outside of work. Below is one example of a dedicated employee leveraging that time to participate in their community and give back to a cause that is near and dear to them.
The Goodtimes Project is a nonprofit organization that hosts Camp Goodtimes for children with pediatric cancer and siblings of children with cancer. Kids between the ages of six and seventeen are invited to spend a week making arts and crafts, kayaking, playing games, and simply enjoying the outdoors. The camp originally opened its doors over 30 years ago. But, in 2013, their partner organization pulled all support, leaving the camp with nothing. To avoid the program shutting down, volunteers rallied together and established a new nonprofit, The Goodtimes Project, and found a way to continue their good work.
Julie Shefchik, a solutions analyst at Lighthouse, has spent two of the past three summers as a camp counselor at Camp Goodtimes.
“Every counselor/staffer at Camp Goodtimes is a volunteer who gives nine days of their time to devote to our campers’ happiness and wellbeing,” said Tanya “Cooper” Krohn, camp director of Camp Goodtimes. “Each comes to camp for the right reasons, and brings with them unique skills and abilities.”
Before the campers arrive, all counselors complete three days of training in preparation for the children’s five-and-a-half day stay. The counselors are on duty day and night, sleeping on site, and are responsible for monitoring the campers and ensuring their happiness. Julie is a part of the activities crew and spends her time hosting arts and crafts, as well as making sure the kids get to all of their designated activities on time.
“Did you know that Julie, Nanook to us, can decorate the heck out of a mailbox and then switch gears and make a game out of an oversized parachute,” said Krohn? “She’s always smiling and is generous in her desire to help. We love having her!”
When a camper or counselor arrives for their first summer, they select a nickname that they go by for the remainder of their time with the camp. Julie chose the name Nanook, the Inuit word for polar bear, which coincidentally aligns with the polar bear plunge, one of Julie’s favorite camp activities. In addition, it is a nod to her hometown of Fairbanks, Alaska. Along with the polar bear plunge, the camp hosts events like the caveman dinner, where everyone eats their food directly off the table with their hands (pictured below). They also host a large-scale event on the second to last day of camp with carnival activities and hair makeover stations, culminating in a giant whipped cream fight.
“It’s a week where the “c card” [cancer] can’t be pulled,” said Shefchik. “All of them are special and unique, but this is a way for them to be just like everyone else for once. They’re in a place where everyone has shared their experience.”
But, as Julie noted, some of the kids are actively fighting the disease, so the camp employs a wonderful medical staff for those who need daily care. She mentioned that one of the hardest parts of camp is the reality that cancer takes lives. In response, the camp hosts a memory circle at the beginning of camp to reflect on friends, former campers, loved ones, and volunteers that have passed.
Camp Goodtimes is a chance for children effected by cancer to take a break from their day-to-day lives and find a sense of community, as well as form lasting bonds with other people with similar experiences. These relationships have made a significant impact on Julie, and because of this she plans to continue to volunteer as a counselor.