Monday, August 16, 2010

Rotary Service Day at Camp Merry Heart

In the hills of Hackettstown, Camp Merry Heart has provided recreation and respite opportunities to over 30,000 children and adults with disabilities or special needs since 1967.

For almost three decades, Rotary District 7470 and the Rotary Club of the Caldwells have supported Camp Merry Heart financially and through volunteer service.

“I’ve been a Rotarian for 23 years and the Caldwell club has supported Camp Merry Heart as long as I’ve been a member,” recalls President Tom Cocchiola. “I can honestly say that it’s one of the best uses of the money we raise because of what we’re doing and who we’re doing it for.” Rotarian Keith Calandra agrees. “I’ve got a real soft spot for the kids. I give them everything we possibly can give them.”

Calandra has led Caldwell Rotary’s support of Camp Merry Heart for the last seven years. For this year’s Rotary District Service Day on August 11, he coordinated volunteers Tom Cocchiola, Dora Hillyer, Paul Marinaccio, Sam Kent, Jonathan Barrett, June VanZandt, Christy Berg , Bob and Janet Markman to help host a day of festivities for the campers. The team sponsored and ran The Moonwalk and served a barbeque dinner to 250 campers, staff and volunteers.

Other Rotary clubs from the district sponsored and ran refreshments stations, games and activities such as karaoke, therapy dachshunds and a dunking booth. “It was a wonderful and rewarding day,” said Berg. “Seeing the children smile with such happiness made me know that we were doing something very special.”

The Rotary Club of the Caldwells also funds $3000-$4000 in Camperships each year, helping pay the way for children who couldn’t otherwise attend Camp Merry Heart. “These one or two weeks make a difference not only to the child, but also to the parents,” explained Cocchiola. “Imagine how much work is involved in care giving. This gives them a much needed break.”

In addition, the club has donated and helped build amenities for the camp. In recent years, Caldwell Rotarians built a fire pit, created a butterfly garden, fenced in the playground, laid the foundation for the infirmary, constructed an outdoor chapel, and purchased benches. Last year the club donated athletic gear including fishing poles, soccer and baseball equipment and life jackets. Each year a team of does spring clean up, maintaining the trails, furniture and equipment.

Camp Merry Heart’s programs help people with special needs build confidence, cultivate a sense of independence, increase social skills, build relationships and reduce disability related health consequences. To learn more about Camp Merry Heart and watch a video featuring their campers, visit

To learn more about The Rotary Club of the Caldwells and their commitment to service both locally and internationally, please visit or call 973-226-2344.

Submitted by Rotarian Christy Berg

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