The/Studio: Introduce yourself. Tell our readers a little bit about who you are!
Millie: I’m Millie Finkel, volunteer director of The Valerie Fund’s Camp Happy Times.
I was diagnosed with breast cancer 33 years ago. I had just finished chemo therapy when a friend called and told me he was involved with an organization that treated children with cancer and they were interested in starting a camp for these special children. That was in 1983. And that was the beginning of my involvement with Camp Happy Times. I was a counselor for a few years and after realizing that the director was paid and not doing a good job, I offered to volunteer as the director and I still continue to this day as director. All counselors are volunteers.
The/Studio: What a wonderful organization. Can you tell us more about Camp Happy Times?
Millie: CHT is a one week sleepaway camp for children who have or have had cancer. All though most of our campers are from NJ, PA, NY and CT, we take any child, no matter where they live. Ages run from 5-21, the older campers 19-21, are part of our LIT program (Leaders in Training).
The/Studio: What about Camp Happy Times are you most proud of?
Millie: I love watching the children grow, come back to camp one summer with hair after being bald the summer before and especially seeing the older campers return as counselors. This year we will have at least 10 former campers as counselors.
The/Studio: What are some of the greatest challenges you face with your organization?
Millie: Camp is a very expensive proposition and as well as raising funds, in-kind donations are always needed. Some of our campers don’t have the means to provide for themselves what is needed for the week at camp, sleeping bags, linens, clothing etc., but we supply them from our “store”, at no cost to them. Every child receives t-shirts and sweatshirts with our logo. The camp we rent is not free, as is the needed golf carts to transport the children who need help and bus transportation and we provide all of this.
The/Studio: Where do you see Camp Happy Times in 10 years?
Millie: We like to say that we won’t need a camp for children with cancer because there will be a cure.
The/Studio: That would be amazing. What type of legacy do you want to leave?
Millie: I hope that some of my campers, as they grow up will continue their commitment to CHT. Over the years, my husband, children, sister, nieces, nephew and grandchildren have been counselors.
The/Studio: What is the story behind the custom product that you produced with The/Studio?
Millie: Since many of our counselors have been volunteering for many years, we decided to give patches honoring their years at camp.
The/Studio: How are you going to use this custom product?
Millie: Last year, we honored our 20 + volunteers with a patch for their sweatshirts and this year we decided to honor the 10+ years of volunteering.
The/Studio: Do you have any upcoming events that our community members can attend?
Millie: Depending if they live in New Jersey. We have many fundraising events.
The/Studio: Is there anything our community members can do to help?
Millie: We look for in-kind donations, about anything you could think of. Over the counter meds (I forgot to say we have a full infirmary with nurses and doctors, we give chemotherapy at camp), water, snacks, white tee shirts for tie-dying, just about anything for arts and crafts. And running a fundraising event is wonderful.
Thank you Millie for sharing your story with us. Your story has truly touched our hearts here at The/Studio. We are honored to be able to interview you.