A little passion and a lot of grit. That’s what Audrey Dunn, a senior from Webster, N.Y., says it took to organize two successful fundraisers to support Camp Good Days and Special Times, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for those whose lives have been touched by cancer and other life challenges. Her efforts were so successful, in fact, that 21 children will be able to go to camp this year, spending good days and special times with others who truly understand what they are going through.
Audrey’s passion is obvious when she talks about what it was like to volunteer with the organization, first with its Kazoo Fest, during which she manned a table at the Eastview Mall and Marketplace in Rochester, N.Y., offering kazoos, candy cane pens, and other items for donations, and later, as a camp counselor for Teddi’s Team, a residential camping program for children ages 8-12 who have or have had cancer or sickle cell anemia.
“It was just such a life-changing experience,” she said. “Their mission is to support families touched by cancer through programs throughout the year, free of charge. It is truly a beautiful mission that helps children and their families not feel alone in their fight against cancer. It’s just out of love and it’s based on volunteerism. You don’t come across something like that very often.”
Audrey’s interest in helping those battling cancer stemmed from a childhood experience. When her best friend’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, Audrey and her mother became their support group. She saw firsthand how a cancer diagnosis affects both the individual and their loved ones, and says that she developed a fear of cancer.
“I actually became petrified,” she said. “It became my top fear, and it still is. That’s how my passion for helping people going through this started. To be able to help children who are living through my nightmare, why wouldn’t I want to do that?”
A high school friend whose father was involved with Camp Good Days introduced Audrey to the organization in 2016. After volunteering with the Kazoo Fest, she decided she wanted to become more involved with the campers and became a counselor the following summer.
Her one-on-one interactions with the campers touched her heart, she said, and made her want to do more for the children and their families she had grown to love.
That’s where the grit comes into play.
Inspired by the Teddi Dance for Love, a 24-hour dance marathon hosted by students from St. John Fisher College since 1982 to benefit Camp Good Days, Audrey set out to organize a similar event at Niagara University.
So she reached out to St. John Fisher to learn more about their dance marathon, and simultaneously established Camp Courage Crew, a student club dedicated to hosting one at Niagara.
“It was a project in itself,” Audrey said of launching the club, which was established in January 2018.
Three other students, seniors Emily DiMaria, Madison Gottstein, and Kelsey Schmidt, stepped up to take on leadership positions within the Crew. Together, the four women took on the majority of the tasks necessary to host the inaugural six-hour event, from writing donation solicitation letters to decorating the gym. Their labor of love raised $6,950 for Camp Good Days in that first year.
“There’s just no words to describe the feeling,” Audrey said when reflecting upon that success. “I brought the idea to campus, but it was really a university effort, and it definitely would not have gotten to this point without everyone’s input and support.
“It’s not only the money that we’re focused on,” she continued. “It’s also the fact that people at Niagara and our community are connecting and resonating with our mission. The money that we raised was amazing, but it wouldn’t have happened without that support, and that support comes from people believing in your cause.”
In recognition of their efforts, Camp Courage Crew was honored with the Commitment to Service Award at the third annual VolunteerWNY Why Not You? Awards ceremony, March 28, 2019.
Now in their second year, both the marathon and the Crew have grown. The fundraiser, held Oct. 19, 2019, raised $10,696, surpassing its goal of $10,000. More than 20 student clubs supported the event by hosting donation stations during the event, where they raised additional funds through smaller activities, and over 300 students, faculty, campers and their families, and members of the community attended the dance.
The Crew now counts more than 50 students as members. They are planning to add a second fundraiser in the spring designed specifically for students, and are developing a training program so members can become approved by Camp Good Days as volunteers for other programs sponsored by the organization.
“We want our crew members to start getting that hands-on experience so they can really connect with the cause, and have each of them develop their own personal meaning to it,” Audrey explained. “It’s remarkable the amount of passion that this group already has, but I cannot imagine if each of them actually had the hands-on experience that I’ve had. It’s one thing to hear about and connect with a cause, but it’s another thing to actually experience it. That’s what we’re trying to do for our crew members, to actually meet the campers, see who they’re impacting.”
To ensure that these efforts continue after she graduates from Niagara, Audrey and her friends developed an organizational structure for the Crew that includes positions called “captains,” which are essentially officers in training who are paired with current officers to learn the steps to hosting the dance. Juniors Sarah Bauch, Ashley Plotnicki, and Erin Taffe, along with sophomore Julia Nolan are currently being prepared to take leadership of the club in 2020.
“I’m excited to come back next year and see what our captains and future officers have in store,” Audrey said. “I definitely think that there’s a lot of potential for us to really make our mark in the Buffalo community.”
Lisa Booz, WNY regional director at Camp Good Days and Special Times, says the organization is “beyond grateful” for the work Audrey is doing. “Her passion, energy, enthusiasm, and commitment are contagious. This is easily seen by the large number of volunteers she has attracted and the depth upon which each is involved. Audrey is truly a remarkable woman. She took the initiative to not just start a fundraiser, but to start a legacy that will inspire and support hundreds for years to come.”