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Letter to the Editor
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Friday September 7

An Open Letter to the Collision Industry from Chuck Sulkala on Behalf of NABC's Support of Camp Mak-A-Dream

Following is a letter INSIGHT received from Chuck Sulkala:

A year and a half ago, I asked for your help in raising $50,000 in order for us, the Collision Industry, to fund and build a house in Kansas City for Habitat for Humanity. As you are all aware, the funds were raised, the house built and there is now a family that has a home they can call their own. Our actions as an industry can make us all proud of what we did and accomplished in a short time. An effort that shows exactly what this industry is made of, quality, hard-working people freely giving of themselves to help others in need. Actually, I thought my fundraising days were over until I was called by Marco Grossi, Chairman of the National Auto Body Council (NABC). He said we needed to help raise the additional funds to build an 11,000 sq. ft. Medical Center. Now that, in and of itself, is a worthy goal, until I asked how much we needed to raise. "Half a Million, that's all." To which I quickly replied, "as in $500,000?" The answer back was yes. "Who's this for?" I asked. And Marco said "Camp Mak-A-Dream, one of the very few camp facilities that accepts kids and young adults undergoing active treatment of Cancer." Well, I thought for a moment and said, "it's only another Zero", and the fact is, it is really that simple.

I think all of us know someone personally who has suffered with the effects of cancer, but to me the most devastating thing is to see a young adult or child go through the ravages of that dreaded disease. This is certainly not to say that other diseases are any more pleasant, but the treatments for cancer have almost a greater effect on the children than does the disease. Two weeks ago I had the pleasure to visit the camp outside of Missoula, Montana. It is truly beautiful country where sick kids can get the chance to have fun, talk with peers, get away from the thing that is always with them, and to simply be kids again, meeting new friends that aren't any different than they are.

Although I knew what the funds were for, and I understood the value to the kids, I really needed to see for myself just what made this camp so special, so much in need of our money and my time. So there I was in Missoula Montana. When we drove up to the camp, I could see the bison roaming the grasslands and way up on the hill were several buildings and I could see an American flag. As we drove up the hill, the buildings grew bigger and those "cabins" became more modern and beautiful. We crossed over the Bridge of Dreams that all campers go over, into a very modern, clean Camp. Perhaps for one of the few times in their lives, this would be a place where they could be themselves, where they weren't different. With the exception of the counselors, they were all the same; everyone had cancer, some were losing hair, and some had lost a limb. But they all shared one thing, they all held onto life and they wanted to live it to the fullest.

I could go on and talk about the sleeping quarters, dining facility, medical facility, swimming pool, and a whole host of other facilities, but I want to focus on the rope course and what we saw there. She had just climbed up the 35-foot ladder to reach the rope that she didn't really want to cross anyway. Even to put on the safety harness never mind go up the ladder was a major accomplishment. But it was the positive encouragement from those on the ropes, the counselors around her, her fellow campers and even me, that found her inching ever so slowly onto the rope with her feet and holding on to the support ropes for dear life. She started one step out on the rope, her legs quivering with fear, her voice trembling and yet she stayed the course, sliding one foot, then the next, inch by inch, slide by slide. I was intent in watching her, not sure if I could even get up there myself. I stood there amazed as I was watching her confidence take over her fear. It wasn't until she was almost on the other side when I saw the sun shine off one of her legs. That shine from her leg was not from a well-oiled great tan, but from a prosthesis that allowed her to walk in as normal a manner as any healthy14 year old. That devise had allowed her to overcome the obstacle of being on that rope, but it was the encouragement of her friends and camp counselors that gave her courage to overcome the fear of self-doubt and self consciousness. This young lady who had turned 14 just a few days before, defied fear and won. There she was, smiling from ear to ear, her big blue floppy hat which seemed like her trademark was pulled over her head. Back home, that trademark might have been used to cover the clumps of missing hair; however here, with others in a similar condition, it was more to keep off the sun than to hide her differences. At Camp Mak-A-Dream there are no differences, she was simply another teenager having fun at camp.

I pretended to rub my eye as if some dust had been blown in, but it was more to rub out the hurt from the salt in my tears that had gathered. How could someone so small, with such a life ahead to live and still enduring the results of seemingly endless treatments, manage to cope? But she was here with friends, new ones. Several of her old friends at her hospital back home didn't get the chance to make it this far. And suddenly, there I was in the midst of Montana with a blue sky overhead, brown hills of grass and green trees of pine realizing why I was here; why I had to do what was needed to be done.

And then I thought about the young boy who managed to make it to Camp in June and meet new friends and take pictures to last a lifetime but who would never live long enough see them developed. On the way home with his mother, just bubbling over with the fun he had had at camp, he developed pneumonia and that along with his cancer was simply too much for his young body to take. His mother was kind enough to send a note to the staff thanking them for giving him the best week of his, all too short, life: a week filled with friends and fun, challenges and rewards, and pictures that would last forever. I was humbled to have read her note, filled with love and also with copies of the most cherished thing he had taken back from Camp, the pictures he never got to see. Now do you see? I don't have a choice, these are the reasons that I am here today to talk with you, my friends, in my industry about helping kids just like yours and mine. They need our help and I know we will come through, after all, it's only another zero.

$500,000 is a lot of money by any standard, but by each of us doing our fair share, by doing our small part, this task is minute compared to the daunting task of fighting cancer for your life and future. That's what every 6 or 10 or 15 year old who goes to Camp Mak-A-Dream has to do every day of their young life; every day that we take for granted. I am asking once again for your help. I may be back for more if we need more, and future causes may bring future requests by others, but for today, right now, I need your help once again. I'm asking for each of you, repairer, supplier, insurer, employee to look deep inside your fiber to see just how badly you need to keep that donation for yourself. I'm looking for each of us to give our fair share to make this a reality. This new medical facility will better accommodate the needs of campers undergoing active treatment of cancer. This is one of a very few camps in the country that is exclusively for 6-17 year olds, 18-25 year olds, as well as a special session for siblings of kids that have cancer. It should also be said that during the off-camp season, there are also special retreats: women with cancer, women with ovarian cancer, and this past year a retreat for Teens with Diabetes. With this new facility, more possibilities of retreats for individuals with cancer as well as other special medical needs can be made available.

This $1.2 million venture is becoming a reality because of a matching grant from the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust which has agreed to award Camp Mak-A-Dream a $500,000 grant if the remaining balance of the funds are raised by the end of 2002. This is where we come in, that's our job, to raise funds to match their grant because the Camp Foundation is already hard at work raising the other $200,000 needed. We have more time than we need, but the sooner we can get our funding in, the sooner the Camp can collect the Murdock grant, and the sooner the building can get started. Frankly, I would like to show them that we are an industry of action and get the funding in early so that the medical facility could get up and functioning before schedule and more campers could benefit from this effort. I know we can do it and here is how.

Actually, if every shop decided to "fine" themselves a fee for every job they delivered late, we could get this facility built early. Imagine, holding our own feet to the fire and having Camp Mak-A-Dream be the benefactor. Or perhaps if every shop could send in a donation of $1 or more for each job you do during October, PRIDE Month that would be a big start. If every technician could donate a $1 for each hour you produced in one week during October, that would make a huge impact. If every Association could donate $1 for each member, or if each supplier could donate $1 for each customer they sold to during October, or if each insurer could donate $1 for each claim administered during October, we could accomplish our goal. Perhaps each individual could donate $1 to celebrate each birthday they have had, you find the reason that works for you. There are all sorts of ways to make this donation fun and yet rewarding to a very worthwhile cause. This provides an example of what a fair donation might be like. It doesn't mean that an outright check needs to be drawn, but that events and activities could be done which add up to that kind of donation level.

Don Keenan, Chairman of SCRS had a golf outing for his 6 shops around the Philadelphia area and donated the proceeds, over $8,000. Marco Grossi, Chairman of NABC has held dinner dances for the employees and vendors of his 7 shops in the Detroit area and with door prizes and raffles which this past year raised over $12,400, all donated to the Camp. Perhaps if you have an open house for Pride month in October, you could advertise that you would donate $1 for every visitor that comes to your open house or facility. There are many ways to allow everyone to become a part of the giving and feel the joy of making a difference. I'd love to hear your plans and results.

For any and all donations of $250 or more, we are looking into a way in which we can recognize the donor with a commemorative brick or in some other manner that reflects the appreciation of the gift as well as the need for which it is given. That recognition could be to honor someone who is an important part of your life, your spouse, your children, your grandchildren, whomever. This has not been finalized at this point, because it needs to be coordinated with the Camp Foundation, the architect and the builder, but whether it be engraved bricks or an engraved plaque, appropriate recognition will be given. Some may be able to be more generous, others may need to be more reserved, but understand that any and all donations are welcomed. Your level of giving needs to match where you feel comfortable. My attempt to arrive at some fair donation level is simply a starting point, to be adjusted to your own means, ability, and situation. If I have sent this out in duplicate or triplicate to you, I sincerely apologize. I am using every list, publication, business card, and address that I have. If you have received multiple copies, you must be a special person that is actively involved in the industry and all the more reason for me to ask for your specific help. The NABC has established a separate Collision Industry Foundation, which will be used for all charitable donations to the camp as well as for other charitable donations to be used within the industry in the coming years. A 501 (c)3 status with the IRS is pending which will make all donations tax deductible on your personal return as a charitable deduction according to the IRS code. The Children's Oncology Camp Foundation which owns, operates, and oversees the Camp is also classified by the IRS as a 501 (c)3 charitable foundation and can be seen at www.campdream.org. In spite of being free to all campers, donations to help sponsor a camper will be accepted as well. If you would like further information on a campership, please contact me so that I can make sure the information gets to you or the appropriate person.

Checks should be made Payable to: Collision Industry Foundation/Camp Mak-A-Dream, P.O. Box 3368, St. Charles, IL 60174. Remember, if the donation is over $250, please state clearly the name you would like to commemorate. As I stated above, the method that we use to do this is still being evaluated, but your continued support of NABC will go a long way as well to insuring that the maximum donations go directly into the Camp. Help them to continue to help the industry.

So far, without really asking, we have received pledges of over $35,000 and money received of over $20,000; I will continue to keep you informed. This is an awesome thing we are doing, employee, employer, repairer, insurer, supplier, vendor, and association. I urge you to take great PRIDE in who we are as an industry and the great work we do both for the vehicle and for those less fortunate. It is our way of giving back a little for the success and good fortune we have received, to me it's simply the right thing to do. I trust you feel the same.

Thank you for your time, your help, and your generosity. God bless,

Chuck

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