“Day Of Champions” Will Be Quite An Experience

Westport is awash in organizations that benefit young people — here, in the rest of Fairfield County, the country and the world. It’s one of the strengths of our community.

Many throw fundraisers. Westporters support them generously, with time as well as money.

But most of these kid-focused groups’ events don’t actually involve young people themselves.

That’s why Experience Camp’s Day of Champions is so wonderful.

Not to mention unique, cool, and tons of fun.

Experience Camp is the Westport-based network of summer camps for youngsters who have lost a parent, sibling or primary caregiver. The program builds confidence, encourages laughter, and allows them to navigate grief through friendship, teamwork, sports and the common bond of loss.

This year, Experience Camps will serve 1,000 boys and girls, at 5 locations from Maine to California.

Of course, running such a life-changing program costs money: $1,000 for a week at camp.

For much of its first decade, Experience Camps — founded by Westporter Sara Deren — relied on gala fundraisers in big cities, and foundation grants.

In 2017 Deren asked fellow Westport resident Gery Grove to help raise funds here. She teamed with Melissa Post, who like Grove loved the idea of the camp.

They thought about the usual events, like cocktail parties. But they realized the best way to raise money for kids was to involve kids themselves.

Together with a hard-working committee, they launched the first Day of Champions in 2018.

Fun at Experience Camps’ Day of Champions …

Camp Mahackeno was the perfect venue for the camp-like color war/field day. Twenty teams of 10 to 15 people each (kindergarten through adult) competed in sponge races, an obstacle course, toothpick pickup contest with oven mitts, archery and others activities. Many wore costumes.

Points were awarded for spirit, fundraising, cheering and more. It was a joyful day — and it brought in over $150,000.

… and funny hair …

To participate, teams had to raise at least $1,000. Some were well over $25,000.

Organizers feared the first year might have been a fluke.

It wasn’t.

Last year’s Day of Champions brought in more than $225,000. Over the past 2 years, Westport’s Michelle Yanover — who lost her mom at 7 — has raised over $45,000. Working with his New York Life firm, Grove’s husband Matt added another $40,000-plus.

… and a tug-of-war …

This year’s 3rd annual event is Sunday, May 17 (8 to 11:30 a.m.). Due to construction at Mahackeno, it’s moved to another great location: Fairfield County Hunt Club.

Yet as fun and financially important as the Day of Champions is, there’s another element that makes it special.

… and more fun. (Photos/Stephen Dodd)

“It teaches kids a lot,” Grove says. “They learn there are other kids who need their support — kids who don’t have their entire family here anymore.

“Kids get a chance to raise money for a resonant cause. And they have the best time doing it. Our lives are busy, but families come and do this together. Kids, teachers, parents, town officials — everyone puts concerns and differences aside for the day. It’s a great time!”

(Click here to register a team. Spectators are welcome too.)

3 responses to ““Day Of Champions” Will Be Quite An Experience

  1. Kudos to Sara and Gerry!

  2. What incredible timing for this amazing article! The second annual Rach’s Hope PJ Gala is this Saturday night, February 29th, at Penfield Pavillion, and a close friend and Team Rach’s Hope member extraordinaire just introduced me to Sara Deren who will be coming to the gala as our guest! Rach’s Hope’s mission is to address the challenges that families face during and after a child’s critical illness requiring an extended stay in intensive care. Last year Rach’s Hope sponsored 5 children so they could attend Experience Camp, and a member of our team, Hannah Devine, cousin of Rachel, was a counselor at Experience Camp. This year Rach’s Hope’s goal is to sponsor ten children! We will have a call to action at our event Saturday night. Sara and I are excited to meet after PJ Gala 2020 to discuss additional ways we can partner. Rach’s Hope will for sure be registering a team for Day of Champions! Check out our website at: rachshope2020.org and we’d love to see Dan’s readership and supporters of Experience Camps at PJ Gala 2020. To purchase tickets and to participate in the phenomenol silent auction remotely, visit pjgala2020.givesmart.com. Thank you, Dan, for all you do to bring our community together and support all of the incredible charity work we do! #Families helping families weather the storm!
    With great appreciation and excitement about Day of Champions 2020,
    Lisa Doran and Team Rach’s Hope

  3. Nailed it, as usual. Thank you for being our voice. Will you be at the Rach’s Hope event on Saturday?

    Best, Sara