Making Magical Memories

By Sue Baldani

Like most nonprofit organizations, Camp Fatima of New Jersey is experiencing major challenges due to COVID-19. Founded in 1968 by four Seton Hall seminary students, the camp offers free sleep-away programs for disabled children and adults. And it’s determined to continue doing so. Seeing the smiles on the faces of those it serves, and providing a respite to their families, is not something that can be sacrificed due to a pandemic.

And smile they do. It’s not called FATIMAGIC for nothing. The campers, regardless of their disabilities, get to do things that most able-bodied children and adults take for granted. They splash around in pools, sing songs, eat s’mores, dance, and take part in arts and crafts. Every child has his or her own dedicated counselor to ensure the utmost care, so each activity can be individually tailored according to the camper’s ability.

Its mission statement, “Camp Fatima provides free, life enriching camp experiences for children and adults with developmental disabilities,” says it all. Some of the campers are in wheelchairs, while others have neurological, sensory or other serious issues. Camp Fatima and its volunteers open their hearts to all who come. It truly is a magical place.

The volunteers come from diverse ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds. Most have experience working directly with the disabled, and include teachers, nurses, police officers, firefighters, college students and other professionals. For these selfless individuals, the sounds of laughter and the looks of pure joy on the campers’ faces are all the payment they need.

Many of these volunteers live locally. Billy Malone, a Scotch Plains firefighter and Fanwood resident, became a volunteer in 1994 and has been the chairperson for the past 13 years. Scotch Plains resident and former Scotch Plains police officer, Jamie Denman, has been a volunteer since 1979, and is the current director.

Even though no one at the camp is paid, all this magic requires funding. It costs several hundred thousand dollars to operate the two children’s summer sessions and the four adult weekends each year. Funding to support and host the more than 200 campers and over 450 on site-volunteers comes from generous benefactors, corporate matching gifts, private giving, and fundraising. Because of COVID-19, many of the usual fundraisers are not able to take place.

So this year, Camp Fatima is looking for individuals to sponsor a camper. The cost to feed, house, and supply materials to each camper is more than $1000.00. To find out more about Camp Fatima, or to volunteer, make a donation, or sponsor a camper, please go to https://campfatimanj.org/.  Since the camp is a designated 501(c) (3) organization, all donations may be tax-deductible.

 Camp Fatima of New Jersey: Changing Lives, Enriching Hearts – One Camper, One Volunteer at a Time.

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