Ask anyone involved with the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp why, twenty-five years ago, Paul Newman came up with the idea, and he or she will tell you that Newman wanted to found a place where kids could “raise a little hell,” regardless of their life-limiting conditions. A visit to the Camp in Ashford, Connecticut, reveals that it’s the perfect place to do just that.
Down the Camp’s dirt road, you’ll find a haven. Cabins and other “Old West” buildings seem straight out of an old mining town. There are grassy expanses, perfect for kickball. In the protective shade of an old
oak tree is one of the kid-coolest ideas around: A tree house that’s wheelchair accessible—an idea so simple in its genius. The air isn’t bogged down with a heavy “hospital” sterility. A fresh breeze blows through the little town. There’s nothing clinical in sight. It’s almost easy to forget the serious illnesses like cancer, hemophilia, HIV/AIDS that the campers face. Here, kids can enjoy a childhood tradition—summer fun. No wonder that the place is frequently called magical.
“It’s not us, it’s them,” says Board Chairman Raymond Lamontagne about the atmosphere here. “Outside of camp, these kids might feel like outsiders. They go through things in life that most kids don’t…and somehow or other, you see that they get to camp and they don’t feel like outsiders anymore.” Others understand what they’re going through. For its twenty-fifth anniversary, Camp is celebrating how far it’s come in making Newman’s dream a reality. The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp is now one of many such camps around the world. And its Hospital Outreach Program was established to bring a “different kind of healing” to twenty-one medical facilities in the Northeast. Lamontagne is excited to make the Hospital Outreach Program an even bigger part of Camp’s future.
“It has been an incredible journey,” says Jimmy Canton, who has been with Camp since it first opened in 1988—first as a counselor, and now as the CEO. “We served just 288 campers our first summer and now we provide the fun and friendship of Camp to more than 20,000 annually—all free of charge. None of it would have been possible without the donors, volunteers and friends who have made our founder’s dream their own.”
Camp’s success is truly thanks to the generosity of many. Newman’s Own Foundation (see opposite) provides less than 1 percent of Camp’s annual operating funds. The rest of the funds are from donations and fundraising efforts that show no signs of stopping. “We hope that this extraordinary community of support will grow with us as we find exciting new ways to take the healing spirit of Camp to more children, families and communities,” Canton says.
These special events honor Camp’s past and look towards its bright future.
Camp released “Wonder,” a sing-along version and music video of the Natalie Merchant hit, performed by Merchant and Campers.
The Annual Founder’s Day Celebration at the Westport Country Playhouse will take place on January 24, 2013. It’s a fun-filled evening in honor of Paul Newman, including a special screening of one of his films.
The Twenty-Fifth Anniversary Gala, the concluding celebratory event, will take place in New York City next fall.