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Unplug Your PCs and Smartphones … It’s Camp Time!

By Sarah Small, corporate communications associate, New York
Draftfcb has a long, proud history of volunteering and assisting One Heartland and Birch Family Camps, a safe space where children and families affected by HIV/AIDS can go to enjoy a real summer camp experience. The tradition began in 1997 with 10 volunteers from the New York office, expanding the next year to include Chicago. This August, 38 volunteers from New York and Chicago will head to Camp Laurelwood in Connecticut to assist 200 kids and 100 adults. Our counselors-to-be and the veterans in the group are already jittery with excitement!
This special volunteer effort began in 1995, when Howard Draft, Executive Chairman of Draftfcb, saw a “60 Minutes” TV show about the camp and all it does to help HIV/AIDS kids and their families. He offered the Draftfcb network’s support the next day! In addition to the volunteers, since 1998, proceeds from the agency’s in-house coffee bars support Birch initiatives. The agency contributes about $25,000 annually.
One Heartland’s programs are located in MN, NY, and CA. Draftfcb volunteers in the past have helped the families of the Birch Camp in NY, but also volunteer in capacities that support the overall organization. Many Draftfcb staffers have served as Board members to the organization, many have also taken their own vacation time to volunteer at other One Heartland programs in MN and CA.

Here, from returning counselors and newbies, are thoughts on what the Birch Camp experience is all about: 
“When I was hired in February 2012, one of the first things I learned about was the opportunity to be a Birch Camp volunteer. My excitement was two-fold. I had attended a camp for years and then served as a counselor. I wanted to give these special kids the time of their lives, and I wanted to be part of a safe space for families who have been through—and face — so much. I am counting down the days until the start of camp. Having packed my trunk with bathing suit, flashlight, bug spray and book of ghost stories, I will bid adieu to the hustle of everyday living and venture into a place of fresh air, clear nights and laughter. It’s camp time.” 
Heather Irvine, Senior Copywriter, New York
“I have been a counselor for Group 3 boys (6-8 year olds) for the past 3 years.  This will be my 4th time around. I started volunteering as a great way to give back. No matter how cliché it may sound, it is honestly one of the most rewarding and humbling of experiences.  Aside from making connections with returning campers every year, we have been able to keep in touch throughout the year and do a few activities outside of camp; and  I have made lifelong friends amongst the other volunteers."
Jason Mercado, Business Manager, New York

“I can’t stress enough, how great it is to be part of Draftfcb’s initiatives with Birch Family Services. It’s a rarity that an organization truly supports a charity in this way, by looking within and encouraging its employees to give a little bit of themselves to help others. This will be my first year volunteering. It will be my very first camping experience overall, so there’s a TON of stuff I’m equally frightened of, as well as looking forward to.  I hate bugs.  I love indoor plumbing.  It will be an adjustment, but all extremely worthy because of the cause.” 
Cynthia Carrasco, talent manager, New York

“I’m a first time volunteer at Birch Camp but I was lucky enough to go to camp many times as a kid. My experiences as a camper were joyful and often profound. I hope to pass on some of that wonderful, perspective-shifting mojo that can inspire confidence, independence and inner peace. I’m proud that Draftfcb sponsors such wonderful, life-changing opportunities for both campers and volunteers.”
Molly Emmons, executive assistant, Chicago

And in the words of Patrick Kindler, executive director of One Heartland: 
“Draftfcb is, by far, the largest corporate supporter of Birch Family Camp with an annual $25,000 donation and a commitment of sending 35-40 Draftfcb employees to volunteer as counselors. We are continually in awe of this amazing commitment and the love Draftfcb shows our families every year. Birch Family Camp would be completely different without the support of Draftfcb over the years. Draftfcb volunteers are some of the most caring, committed, enthusiastic and flexible people I have ever met. Their imaginations and creativity have become a huge part of our program. We don’t have the money for fancy expensive equipment, instead we have committed volunteers who use their talents in storytelling, dance, photography, nature, and drama and make a one week camp in the woods the week our families look forward to all year long.”