WINTER may be coming soon, but Caryle Gulker, chairwoman of the New Rochelle Campership Fund, has her eyes on summer. Will the fund, now celebrating its 40th anniversary of raising money to send disadvantaged children to camp, be able to raise enough for the growing number of families in need of help?
As a child, Mrs. Gulker of New Rochelle experienced the joy of camp and the disappointment of not going when family finances prevented it. A retired coordinator of a deaf and hard-of-hearing program in Co-op City, Mrs. Gulker joined the Campership Fund's volunteer board 3 years ago. The fund sends about 500 children a year to camp. Tax- deductible gifts to the Campership Aund should be sent to Post Office Box 255, New Rochelle, N.Y. 10804.
Here are excerpts from a recent conversation with Mrs. Gulker:
Q. How did you get involved with the Campership Fund? A. Being an educator, I know the needs of children in terms of their experiences over the summer because the kids in the Bronx are no different from the kids here in New Rochelle in the respect that if they're not busy during the summer they come back to school lethargic, bored, unhappy. When they have a summer experience, they are much happier children. This is especially true for needy children. So I joined the board enthusiastically, and I haven't gone off the board and I have been the chairperson for the last five years.
Q. Did you go to camp as a child? A. Interestingly, I went to some of the camps that we are supporting. I went to a Girl Scout camp, but I didn't go every year. Because I didn't go and so many of my friends did“ and because it was for financial reasons that I didn't go - I think I'm even more appreciative of what the Campership Fund is doing.
Q. Camp meant a lot to you? A. Oh, absolutely, and it meant a lot to me to send my three children to camp. At one point, after I joined the board, I decided that my children should go to one of the camps we were supporting. So they went to Camp Liberty, which at that time was run - we no longer run it - by the city of New Rochelle.
Q. That was in lieu of a more affluence experience? A. Yes, I wanted them to see what it was like. They had a most wonderful time. And another time I sent them to Camp Sloan, which was the Salvation Army sleep-away camp. I felt that so many children here in New Rochelle can afford the very best, and I think we could have also, but we wanted them to see what it was like.
Q. Why is camp important and what special importance does it play in the life of a disadvantaged child? A. Our fund is celebrating its 40th year, and the needs have changed. In the beginning, a mother or father needed scholarship funds. They did net have the money to send children, one or two or three, perhaps. That was the original goal of the fund. But in the last 20 years the needs have changed. The children have maybe just one parent or a grandparent bringing them up - and the type of child that we see is very different from the type we saw in the begin- ning. These children would otherwise be playing on the streets in the summer, sitting in a hot apartment with-out air- conditioning, watching TV because the mother is out working or the grandmother is out working. The children are in much more need than they were. And we see the needs now are growing even more because camps are getting more and more expensive.
Q. What kinds of camps do you support? A. We have lots of options. Basically, parents can ask for a scholar-ship for two or three children for two weeks or for one child for a month. It depends on the parents' needs and what the agency is offering. Most children can get partial scholarships for a six-week program and some children can get a full scholarship for a three- or four-week program.
Q. You do not run any camps yourself, correct? A. Right. The bulk of our money goes to the New Rochelle Board of Education Social Work Department and they fund children to existing camps. The Community Action Agency gets another chunk of our money, and it has its own camp. And the Boys and Girls Club of New Rochelle gets money from us and has its own camp. The Department of Human Services in New Rochelle runs a camp for handicapped children, Camp Joy.
Then we fund money through the Hope Community Services, the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts, the Salvation Army, the Guidance Center, the Martin Luther King Jr. Child Development Center and the New Rochelle Day Nursery.
Q. Who picks the campers? A. The agencies pick them. However, there are guidelines, and the guidelines are definitely that the children be in need. For example, the New Rochelle Board of Education uses the guidelines of the children who are entitled to free lunch.
Q. What do parents say camp has meant to them and their children? A. There is no question that camp is great for children and a godsend for parents and grandparents. Children come back saying, I've never had such a great time. Their parents have said, "It was a wonderful relief for me for the summer."
I can give you some specifics. We have a grandparent who has to watch two children while their mother has to attend a drug-rehabilitation center. So they will send the two kids to camp. We have children whose parents are having trouble in terms of their marriage, and there are child-custody battles. And a parent will say, "Please send my child to camp for the summer so we can get the child away from this kind of problem." This summer we helped send some children and their families to Camp Viva, for people with AIDS and their families.
We also have children of immigrant parents who are new to this country; if they go to camp, they come back the next school year much better adjusted to the way kids are in America.
The kids are just different when they come back, and everyone sees it and the parent sees it and the child sees it, and they know it's been a wonderful experience.
Q. How much money is available? A. In years gone by we've done better. We have had about $25,000 to $30,000. Our average is about $22,000 now. And, as I've said, the need is greater and the cost of the camp is higher now, so it takes a lot more.
Q. How do you account for the drop in money? Is it because there are so many competing agencies and charities? A. Correct. But our supporters are very loyal. And recently we've had people give us special gifts to celebrate an event in their lives. One family had a 40th anniversary, and several of their friends approached me that instead of giving the usual gifts for the anniversary party they wanted to do a scholarship for some children, and that's what they did in honor of Judith and Donald Pinals. Someone else did the same thing for someone's anniversary.
Q. What was the barbecue fund-raiser you held in October? A. We decided it was our 40th anniversary and we'd like do something special, so the event was called Partnership for Campership. I had written to Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, who know about our work in New Rochelle, and they graciously agreed to be honorary chairpersons. And we decided to do a fund-raising barbecue and we were also looking for sponsors. Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee were not able to come, but they called.
Then we had a lovely presentation from the New Rochelle Lions Club, which has been a sponsor of ours for the last 15 years and they contributed $3,000, and it was a surprise to us and it made it even nicer.
Q. How much need is out there just in New Rochelle? A. We're now serving between 500 and 550 children. In 1990, we served 650, so we would like to get back up to that. We would do 800 if we had the money. Someone at the barbecue asked me, "How do we have so many needy children in New Rochelle?"
And I said there are so many untapped needy children; we can't get to all of them. We hate to turn people away, but we do.