As the parent of a physically challenged young man, I fully appreciate the yeoman’s job done by the volunteer crew at New Jersey’s “Shore Dreams for Kids”. Held in mid July each year, the 2012 version was the 10th annual event held under the auspices of the New Jersey Performance Powerboat Club, one of the leading Poker Run clubs in the nation.
Started in 1974 by two local Offshore racers, Bud Crisp and John “The Crazy Greek” Bochis—both parents of handicapped children—the event had modest beginnings with two race boats available for rides to a handful of children. It grew into an annual gathering of New Jersey-area racers for the purpose of giving exciting boat rides, under the name “Day on the Bay” and reached out to local organizations benefiting children with various mental and physical health problems.
After a number of years it seemed to have run its course and was cancelled in 2000. It was resurrected in 2003, as “Shore Dreams for Kids” by Peter Mazzo, Rob Cline, and Brian Meade who quickly approached NJPPC impresario, Dave Patnaude—with outstanding results.
This year Shore Dreams served more 600 clients of various charities and agencies around the state, each with at least one chaperone. As it always does, the day included a virtually endless supply of food, drinks and delectable sweets. Favorite features include a Classic and Antique car show, face painting, tee shirts, temporary tattoos, an assortment of toys and trinkets in addition to the trademark fast boat rides put on by a seemingly endless parade of NJPPC members boats. While there are a number of Poker Run and Racing notables present at these events, there is also a huge cadre of local volunteers who devote months of effort to make this happen.
Which brings us to the meat of the matter: What is this event really about?
As my son, Darren, and I watched the day’s events unfold, I was struck by an assortment of impressions. First, the guests in many cases have spent their lives with their noses pressed up against the window of life, looking in from the outside. This event turns that situation inside out, for a day anyway, as these deserving folks get a chance in the driver’s seat, literally and figuratively.
The volunteers fulfill every wish possible and provide an experience that many people without disabilities would love to have. There is no question that this effort provides more joy, more memories, and more self-respect to the most worthy audience anyone could possibly assemble.
Without doubt this is a very good deed, but it goes in two directions. As the day unfolds the volunteers get at least as much out of it as the intended beneficiaries. Dressed in their official event shirts, the workers get an amazing lesson in life. They see first hand that the mentally challenged, physically challenged and even terminally ill want the same things we all do—some food, some fun, some laughs, some thrills, some respect, some love, and some memories.
The point is by day’s end everybody who attended got a big dose of all of those precious things on both sides. The lines blur and all that you finally see is one big group of humanity, some a bit less fortunate perhaps, engaged in a joint effort to create a very special moment in time.
One story pretty well sums it up. A few years ago, medallions were handed out to each of the attendees as a memento to be worn with a ribbon around the neck. One of the volunteers took a young girl for a ride, which she thoroughly enjoyed.
After returning to the dock she turned to the volunteer, a respected and well-known poker run veteran, and said, “I have less than a year to live and this ride was so exciting and special that I want you to have my medal.”
Then she hung it around his neck with a hug he will remember for all of his days. As I said, this goes beyond one of those feel-good events where people go to raise a few bucks and pat themselves on the back. Shore Dreams is truly something special.
My mind wandered as I walked around the huge area set aside for the event. I thought about the natural “old school” approach where everyone pitches in to do the cooking, driving, lifting people in and out of boats, guiding groups, cleaning up, directing traffic and a myriad of other things. I considered that this was an all-private and volunteer event, and how a similar government-run effort would have cost hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars, probably cater to a different clientele based on some political agenda rather than common sense standard, and added hundreds of rules, regulations ,worker/client protection limitations and would have taken years to organize. Thankfully we still have good old American, hard-working, taxpaying, private citizens with huge, generous hearts and enough remaining freedom to actually get something done.
As we drove home from the event I asked Darren what he thought. He said simply, “We had a good day.”
We certainly did.
God Bless Shore Dreams for Kids. Maybe He already has.