BY PHIL CUSTODIO
Clarkston News Editor
For the past 30 years, volunteers have worked together to raise funds and organize SCAMP for kids with special needs, each summer starting with a picnic at Independence Oaks County Park, July 25.
This year’s picnic at the Twin Chimneys pavilion is led by John Spokaeski, who has volunteered with the non-profit organization almost since its beginning, and Aimee Baker, in her first year as executive director.
“Kids love it. They just have a ball,” said Spokaeski, who’s known for bringing the watermelon enjoyed by all. “I’m the watermelon man. We have hot dogs, potato chips, water, pop. The kids have fun.”
Volunteers, community organizations, and businesses work all year to bring the five-week summer camp to all those who need it.
“I’m amazed at the generosity of Clarkston businesses, year after year, event after event,” said Baker, who took over her position in April. “I couldn’t be happier. I love it.”
Spokaeski, an Oakland Township resident and retired owner of Eagle Valley Recycle and Disposal Facility, started working with SCAMP when he joined the North Oakland Elks in the 1980s.
“The picnic was a neat thing they were doing – I took it over,” he said. “One year, we had a fishing contest for about 150 kids. We only had five rods. I went to Meijer and told them I needed 150 rods. They said, ‘are you serious?'”
They got a manager and told him to come back in a few hours, he remembered.
“When I came back, they had close to 200 rods,” he said. “It was a hot day with a lot of smiles.”
Lake Orion and Oxford American Legion posts helped immensely, along with the Wints, Smiths, Mel Vaara, state Sen. Jim Marleau, and many other Clarkston organizations, businesses, and individuals, he said.
“There are so many people, I can’t name everyone,” he said.
“This is so much about relationships,” Baker said.
In 2013, the Orion Area Parade Group named Spokaeski its citizen of the year, and he rode in the lead convertible in the 24th annual Lighted Parade in downtown Lake Orion.
Spokaeski was a fixture in the Lake Orion Girls and Boys Club, funded many local organizations and events and attended almost every holiday event at the old Orion senior center in the 1990s and early 2000s, donating food, presents and his time to give the older community a social outlet and a friend, organizing special field trips for seniors, sponsoring luncheons and donating cakes, park benches or entertainment.
Independence Township Fire Department brings its fire trucks, and Oakland County Sheriff’s deputies their motorcycles for the kids to check out, Baker said.
“We have a lot of community help,” she said. “The Clarkston State Bank Half Marathon donated medals for the kids – so many people in the community step up for this.”
SCAMP includes activities in the park as well as throughout the community.
“It’s a great experience for the kids and a respite for the parents,” Baker said. “The parents know their kids are well taken care of so they get a breather, which is huge for them as well.”
Volunteers come back year after year, Baker said.
“Some start as teenagers, then they become student aides, then adult aides, then special education teachers,” she said.”There are volunteer opportunities with everything we do. It’s such a wonderful thing.”
One of her goals as executive director is to increase youth involvement, she said.
“I’d like to recruit the younger generation, to let them see the value of giving back to the community,” she said. “Someone needs to pick up the ball and carry on.”
Fundraisers, including Walk and Roll in the spring, Home Tour in June, and the upcoming SCAMP Golf Classic on Sept. 8, ensure families who can’t afford the camp can send their kids who need it.
For more information, email Baker at firstname.lastname@example.org.