Nick Landy has been a loyal and dedicated teacher and coach in Harrison for many years. And when you consider how much time he puts in during the school year, whether it’s in the classroom at Harrison High School, on the football field, the volleyball court, at other school-related functions and so forth, you might think he would want to take the entire summer to recover, relax, take it easy without major responsibilities.
But anyone who knows Landy is fully aware — being idle, not his thing. And so it should come as no surprise he’s spent countless hours over the last 36 years at Camp Fatima, in Lebanon Township, one that caters to the special needs community.
Landy, coach Mike Gregory, head football coach Ray Lucas and Lucas’s daughter Madison, who is also a coach in Harrison, spent last week at the camp — and they did so because they want to. Not because of a contractual requirement. Not because they’re getting big bucks to go (they do it all on a volunteer basis.) Not for any reason other than having a love for kids and young adults who get to spend a week away from home.
Landy says he first heard about the camp nearly 40 years ago when he was first starting to get involved with the Lions. Patti Gerris, who for many years has attended the camp, asked him to pick up a check from the Lions for Camp Fatima, because the organization donates a substantial amount of money to keep it afloat. And at the time, the Lions were only men.
So Landy went, got the check, and wound up volunteering at the camp, which was modeled after a camp of the same name and style in New Hampshire in the late 1960s (it was ultimately incorporated in 1971.)
And now, that was almost four decades ago.
So just what is it that makes Camp Fatima so special, aside from the obvious?
“We call it ‘Camp Fatimagic,’” Landy says. “This is such a great place, where so many bonds and friendships are formed.”
That’s an understatement.
And here’s an example.
Juan Barroso Jr., Kearny’s chief fire inspector, met his future wife, Jodi, at the camp — they fell in love (and actually lived next door to each other … though their relationship developed there and not in Harrison, per-se) and Juan proposed/got engaged to Jodi while at the camp many moons ago.
And all these years later, thought Barroso can’t attend the camp like he used to since he now has responsibility as a husband and father of two young children, Fatima still holds a special place in his heart, so much so that he and Jodi are hosting a bowling event in October to raise money for the camp. They did it last year, too, and raised a whopping $15,350. We wouldn’t be surprised if they surpass that amount raised this year.
So yeah, there’s that.
And for parents, who often spend every waking hour with their children, for 51 weeks of every year, having time to themselves, knowing their loved ones are in good hands, is equally special.
“The parents are always grateful, thanking us,” Landy says. “But they are the heroes for 51 weeks of the year.”
The camp has about 160 people in total, but 40 campers. Every single camper has their own counselor, without exception. The camp offers a sense room, where those unable to see can feel things and experience similar joys to the sighted campers.
When we spoke with Landy, the activity staff was preparing the campers for the annual talent show. There are other activities every day. And this year, there’s something called “Destination Fatima,” with a coffee-house theme — and involves the campers putting on a play every day.
And there were also plans for a Halloween Dance in August, where the campers would wear Halloween-style clothing instead of their regular stuff.
When they gather for meals, everyone signs songs.
So from the start of the day to the end of the day, the hours are packed and the campers have so much to do.
“It is exhausting a bit,” Landy admits. “But when you see the joy the campers experience, it’s worth every minute put in. The unconditional love the campers have for us — it’s special, unique. It’s hard to describe.”
Landy and his fellow volunteers do a variety of things around the camp each day. For Landy, it’s the kitchen crew, where he prepares three meals a day for 160 people. He’s one of six cooks. Imagine that daunting task.
The kids are mostly from the Harrison area, but there are others from towns not as close, including a family from Summit that has been involved with Fatima for years.
Oh and did we mention the campers don’t pay a penny to go?
“It really is a special place,” Landy says.
So it’s no wonder — perhaps — the adults take away just as much, if not more, than the campers do from an amazing place.
“As a teacher, I have summers off,” Landy says. “There’s nowhere else I’d rather be.”
Find out more by visiting www.campfatimanj.org. You can even donate there on top of Barroso’s fundraisers.
Learn more about the writer ...
Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.