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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.)