Camp Happiness is a camp for residents of Niagara County with intellectual and other impairments that was conceived by Lockport Elk member John Ziiezula and funded largely through the efforts of the Lockport Elk Lodge No. 41. If you ask John what makes the camp successful, he will quickly tell you it is the 40 or more Elk volunteers who work closely each year with the staff of the Lockport Family YMCA , Empower (formerly Niagara Cerebral Palsy) and Intandem (formerly Opportunities Unlimited).
Judy Brounscheidel, a Lockport Elk volunteer, has attended camp all 12 years and provides a horticulture experience for Camp Happiness’ 150 campers each year. She has developed a partnership with Pipiles Greenhouse which generously donates all the plants . Judy says it is the joy she sees each year on the faces of the guests that keep her coming back.
Arts and Crafts is popular with all campers and another Lockport Elk, Donna McMichael, has volunteered her time there for the past eight years. She is quick to say that she gets much more from the campers than she gives to them. That sentiment is shared by first-year volunteer and a new Elk member, Doug Nicholson. After one day, Doug says he felt enriched by the experience and plans to return next year and hopefully spend more days at camp. Another first-year volunteer and Lockport Elk is Donna Ander. She loves Camp Happiness and can’t wait for next year.
Niagara Falls resident Julia Bassham drives to Barker each of the five days camp is in session. For the past six years, she has led the campers in the use of handbells. When asked how she first learned of Camp Happiness, she said it was from Dawn, one the campers who attended Camp Happiness and also attended a bell-ringing class at a local church. The young woman asked her if she would come to the camp. Julia contacted camp leaders and began volunteering her services the following year.
Lisa T. was a camper for the first 11 years of Camp Happiness and this year she returned to camp as a volunteer assisting in arts and crafts, horticulture and at the pool. She is happy to be her own person and help where needed. Lisa enjoyed encouraging the campers. One of her many favorite memories of camp is the time spent at the campfire while making s’mores and being with friends. She credits camp with helping her conquer her fear of the water through her paddle boating experience and she looks forward to giving back to the camp that gave so much to her.
Ten years ago, Husband and wife team, John and Donna Wick, were looking for a void to fill in their lives after their son had graduated from high school and had gone off to college. They thought Camp Happiness might be something they would like to try. That trial has lasted for 10 years. Donna also serves on the board of directors as the treasurer. They both feel camp makes them more grateful for the life they have. When asked for a favorite camp memory, John recalled getting a camper who is confined to a wheelchair out on Lake Ontario in a paddleboat. It is a memory they will cherish forever.
Camp Happiness is held the last week of June each year at Camp Kenan in Barker. Lockport Elks Lodge No. 41 provides most of the $40,000 needed each year which includes the fee for the use Camp Kenan, the camp Kenan staff, lunch for all and transportation to and from Camp Happiness including several wheel chair vans. Camp Happiness is an official 501 C3 not for profit organization. Donations can be mailed to Camp Happiness P.O. Box 395 Lockport, NY 14095. Plans for 2020 are already being made.