Dave will never forget the day in 1982 when he first heard about Special Love and Camp Fantastic. He had just completed his first summer at the Northern Virginia 4-H Educational Center and was the only “perm staff” member who hadn’t returned to school. A young couple named Tom and Sheila Baker had just arrived and had asked to speak with John Dooley, the center’s director at the time. Dooley asked Dave to sit in on the impromptu meeting:
“Talk about being in the right place at the right time. I don’t remember a lot about the meeting, just the feeling that I was witnessing a very important moment in the 4-H center’s history. Little did I know it would be an important moment in my history as well.”
Dooley had only a few hours earlier spoken to a different special needs group whose camp plans had fallen through, so he was very receptive to what the Bakers had in mind: a normal camp experience for children with cancer. He and the Bakers worked quickly and, with medical assistance from the National Cancer Institute, welcomed the first 29 campers to Camp Fantastic exactly one year later.
Dave was one of about 30 staff members that year and he continued to volunteer until 1987. He was working full-time by then, but hadn’t found his true calling yet:
“I interviewed for four different jobs when I graduated from college, but I wasn’t terribly excited by any of them. Then Tom Baker took me aside at a winter camp weekend and changed my life by offering me a job with Special Love.”
Dave became Special Love’s first employee in 1987 and, after 30 years of being a jack of all trades, settled into his current position as Sr. Director of Outreach and Programming. He credits the organization’s longevity to the unconditional love and hope that permeates the Special Love community, a feeling that Tom Baker always referred to as “how the world should be.”
“It means so much to me to see the way that Special Love changes lives, not just the lives of the campers and their families, but the staff and volunteers, too. It certainly changed mine.”
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