“The best week of their lives” — Paul Newman’s promise to kids with serious illnesses
BY SARAH GURTIS
“A place of dreams, of joy, of possibilities. A camp where children with serious illnesses and their families can forget the word ‘no’ for a little while and embrace the promise of ‘yes.’” This is the positive spirit behind Camp Boggy Creek, a magical place co-founded by Oscar-winner Paul Newman for children ages 7 to 16 diagnosed with chronic or life-threatening conditions.
I was among the early volunteers for Paul’s camp for seriously ill children located in Eustis, near Orlando, Florida. In late 1992 I was asked to take on the marketing and branding efforts for what was to become Camp Boggy Creek. My scheduled one-hour meeting with the Development Director lasted nearly four hours, and by the end of it, I declared myself “all in.” Between then and the ground-breaking in 1994, I got to create the name and logo, write the mission statement, and create the marketing materials.
Working directly with Paul and often with his co-founder General H. Norman Schwarzkopf was inspirational. Along with a legion of volunteers, a committed staff, and an influential board of directors, we created a place that felt as though it had existed forever. By opening day in 1996, volunteers had crafted hundreds of quilts and handmade “Boggy Bears” to help the children feel at home and embraced by love. Paul’s goal was to give them the best week of their lives.
While serving as the MC for the grand opening, I looked out over our nearly 1,000 guests (including the General and then Florida Govenor, Lawton Chiles) in awe of what had been created and the impact it would have on countless children and families. To date, more than 76,000 children and family members have attended this camp free of charge.
“He admitted that he was a little daunted by what [camp] had become…it sort of snuck up on him, one camp at a time.”
I asked Paul one time if he’d ever actually planned to have so many camps. (The SeriousFun Children’s Network, of which Boggy Creek was an early part, has grown exponentially.) He admitted that he was a little daunted by the scope, what it had become…it sort of snuck up on him, one camp at a time.
I think about him often and am so grateful for all the shared experiences and memories. For someone who didn’t set out to create a legacy, Paul Newman certainly left a great one.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR – SARAH GURTIS
Sarah Gurtis is the President & CEO of the Council on Aging of Volusia County Florida. Her diverse background includes careers at SunTrust Banks, International Speedway Corporation and Camp Boggy Creek, Paul Newman’s Florida camp.