GREENVILLE – Four young men from New Orleans are graduating from the Light Foundation’s Camp Vohokase as the foundation wraps up its annual outdoor leadership camp Thursday in Greenville.
Along with the seniors from New Orleans, the 10-day camp also welcomed campers from Darke County, New Bedford, Massachusetts, and Gloucester, Massachusetts, this year.
“I like how we can bring in different cultures,” Dylan Pope, a camper from Greenville, said. “I like how we can bring it all in and just act as one good group and be together and be kind to each other.”
Camp Vohokase is an annual program by the Light Foundation – a non-profit organization founded in 2001 by Greenville native and three-time Super Bowl champion Matt Light. The camp is held each year at the foundation’s 400-plus acre facility near Greenville, Chenoweth Trails.
“The kids this year have been amazing,” Light Foundation Program Director Nick Schuckman said. “Sometimes in years past when we do our fireside chat not a lot of the kids will open up or it’s really hard for us to draw them, to engage them in the conversation a little bit. But this year we’ve asked these kids a number of questions and they just open up with everything.”
The camp aims to instill leadership, accountability, hard work and ethics into 16 boys from at-risk areas across the United States in the hope that they’ll become leaders in their communities. The camp in Darke County is one part of a four-year program that works with the boys throughout their high school careers.
By bringing the boys together for the camp, Light Foundation leaders also hope they learn from each other.
“It’s been pretty great,” Pope said. “We’ve all just been positive, and the things we haven’t been positive about everyone has just picked themselves back up, and we’ve been able to accomplish anything we’ve set our minds to and anything we’ve wanted to do throughout the camp. Every obstacle there is we’ve overcame it.”
Coming from a wide array of backgrounds, the campers are exposed to people with different worldviews. But they still find they face many of the same struggles, which helps them connect to each other.
“When I first came here I had a lot of anxiety, social anxiety, and I wasn’t really outgoing,” William Terrance Moses Slate from New Orleans said. “But now I’m really connecting with all the campers, becoming a good leader and everyone admires what I do.”
Slate, who hopes to own a restaurant someday, brought some of his passion and experience to Darke County by cooking a New Orleans-style meal for the campers and counselors that included gumbo, red beans and rice, jambalaya and corn bread.
The campers also were exposed to many outdoor activities that many of them don’t experience at home including fishing, archery, paintball, dirt bike racing and ropes courses.
“A lot of things we do here we can’t do where I’m from,” Ethan Medeiros from New Bedford, Massachusetts, said. “It’s nice to be able to go help build the timber frame or go set up the blue jay houses and all that other cool stuff.”
The campers worked on a number of projects throughout the 10-day camp including constructing a timber frame structure, building bird houses, creating obstacles for the Gauntlet Trail Run and building a trebuchet – a weapon that is similar to a catapult.
“I don’t know many people who have a trebuchet laying around, much less one that’s 15 feet tall, 1,500 pounds,” Schuckman said. “So not only will we have fun doing that but they learn the science behind it.”
A favorite activity of many campers continues to be a visit to Brethren Retirement Community.
“I just really like going to that place because I like hearing their stories, helping out their bingo,” Slate said. “It’s easily my favorite part.”
At Brethren the campers lead games of bingo and also go fishing with the residents.
“I like putting smiles on the elders’ faces and playing bingo with them,” Pope said, “I think it’s pretty fun.”
Kyle Shaner - Greenville Daily Advocate
Camp Vohokase, The Light Foundation's 10-day Youth Leadership Program held on the Foundation's 400-plus acre facility, Chenoweth Trails, in Greenville, OH.
Camp Vohokase graduated three seniors from West Lafayette, Indiana -- the third 'class' to complete all four years of the program--– and continued to extend its reach, welcoming four incoming 'freshmen' from Worcester, MA. Each summer, the Camp routinely hosts approximately 15-16 boy-- – four groups selected from across the country. They hail from Rhode Island, where Light holds his annual Celebrity ShootOut fundraising event; West Lafayette, Indiana, where he played at Purdue University, Nashville, Tennessee, where a local youth organization looking to build leadership into an existing program is located; and now Worcester, MA. The Light Foundation tracks all who attend year-round, to ensure they stay on course; and Light plans to expand the number of campers each year.
The Chenoweth Trails facility itself has grown dramatically within recent years. It now boasts living quarters known as yurts, a state-of-the-art cooking and eating area, outdoor fireplace and fire pit, electricity, running water, miles of trails, a pond, an outdoor amphitheater ,timber frame pavilion, turf field, adjacent kitchen and bathroom facility. The facility holds other community-based events throughout the year, and also lends its property to nonprofits like the Boy Scouts, 4-H Groups, and many other Youth Non-Profit Groups.
During the ten-day program, campers participate in on-site and community-based programs intended to instill leadership, including trail-based activities such as fishing and archery, a community service project, and site visits to area businesses. This year campers lead Bingo, prepared and served lunch, and entertained residents at The Brethren Retirement Community. They also toured two companies on career day: Neff Co and The Dayton Daily News. Campers enjoyed a Camp Yale ropes course, canoeing, paint ball competition, dirt bike riding, a camp project, and engaged in "fireside chats" about goals and expectations. Light says it's the combination of fun, service and hard work that is often transformative for the boys.
While the campers admit the conditions are "rustic," many agree the experience is life-altering. "This camp changed my life dramatically," says former camper, Dustin Waymire. "When I first came here, I was socially awkward. I was angry all the time... angry at the world. They took me in here, and built up my confidence and self-esteem," he adds, "I can't say enough about Matt Light. He had faith in me even when I didn't have it in myself."
"We want these kids to serve something bigger than themselves; they help others and help themselves by doing that. For a lot of these kids, all they need is an opportunity. We use the outdoors as a real teaching tool and a way to get kids to open up. And with us, these kids aren't given anything. We make them work for everything they achieve. But through that they understand and value hard work, they learn work ethic, and they become proud of what they do and want to share their accomplishments. These guys are learning how to become great citizens, great neighbors, and great friends. They're learning how to be great people. We're helping them build that." - Matt Light
The trip began by meeting with the School Advisor for New Bedford High School. She informed me that the kid’s grades were improving and that they were finishing off the school year very strong. Afterwards, the New Bedford guys and I went to Worcester to pick up the seniors. We then headed to Dave and Busters for a night of food, food, and games. Many of the guys were able to set High Scores for some of the games that they played including the Hoops Game and Mario Kart Racing. After spending time with the seniors on their last Visit as Campers, we dropped them off so that the rest of the group could get prepared for the next day’s activities.
Some items came up during the day, preventing John Reis from joining us for breakfast and paintball. We all woke up bright and early so that we could go to breakfast at Ihop. Devin, Anton, and Ethan had a blast coming up with nicknames / code names to call each other whenever they were on the paintball field. We arrived to the paintball field and everyone was intimidated because the other people there had their own equipment whereas we were renting ours. When we got to the field, any fear that they had was gone. We were able to play 5 rounds of paintball, all on different fields. Our team was able to win 4 out of the 5 rounds which made it even more fun for the group. After paintball, we grabbed a quick lunch and headed to Sky Zone where we did flips, basketball, a rope ladder, and most importantly, dodgeball. For about an hour, countless numbers of games of dodgeball were played where everyone was evenly matched. After a few hours of jumping around, we headed to Applebee’s to have dinner. There were multiple birthdays in the restaurant that day and Anton had said that he was glad it wasn’t his because he would feel embarrassed about them singing to him. It was then that we decided to tell the staff that it was his birthday. The mission was successful in that Anton started blushing and turned red. For our finally activity of the visit, the guys decided they wanted to go bowling. We split up into two teams and played each other. Team 1 was Devin and Edgar while Team 2 was Anton and Ethan. At first Team 2 though they were going to win until Devin, from Team 1, change his technique and began throwing Strikes! In the end, Team 1 won and kept the streak going. The visit then ended once all the kids were dropped off at home.
Unfortunately because of weather, Nick’s flight to Providence was canceled and could not make the visit. On the bright side, this meant that the weather would be great for skiing. Saturday morning had greeted us with a few more inches of snow. That morning, John had picked up the kids from New Bedford and brought them to Matt’s house. We all then decided to caravan to Wachussett Mountain and make a detour to Worcester to pick up Dontrell. We arrived at Wachussett Mountain and began putting on our rental gear. Since the New Bedford Campers had never been skiing before, we decided to start the day at the bunny hills. Dontrell joined us to warm up for the green and blue slopes. After a couple of runs down the bunny hills, with pointers from Matt and Edgar, and after a few falls, the campers were ready for the green slopes. Anton decided to stay with Matt and Dontrell while Devin and Tyhon went with Edgar. Devin and Tyhon really began to enjoy skiing once they started to snake their way down the slopes. Tyhon struggled getting up after he had fallen a bit more than the others. But after observing how the others got up, he was able to mimic their technique and it became easy again. After about 5 runs down the slopes, we decided to meet up with Matt, Dontrell, and Anton back at the lodge for lunch. Everyone got food from the cafeteria and talked about their struggles and goals for the next few runs before going out again. We all went out back to the slopes with plans to leave a few minutes at the end of the day for their famous Waffles. On this second set of runs, the campers decided to try going off some of the smaller jumps that were formed. Although they didn’t complete the jump on the first try, by then end of the day they had managed to stay on their feet. We went down the mountain a few more times before going to the Waffle Stand. Unfortunately, there was an hour and a half wait to get some waffles so we decided to just make our way home and grab dinner on the road.
Had a great time hanging out with these young men. We started the visit off with dinner at Sharps in Palestine, OH. Justin, Robin and the whole Sharps crew have been big supporters of everything and anything we do. After dinner and some great conversation we headed back to the Roost for some needed rest. As you will see in the pictures I was short one camper and this is because these visits are a privilege for these guys and a certain someone had a not so good 2nd quarter report card. Our guys have to be willing to put in the work to take advantage of the awesome opportunities that will come their way while in this program. This young man missed out on a great weekend with friends.
Saturday morning we had breakfast of champions as we ran through the McDonalds drive in and headed to Columbus, Oh for the day. When we arrived in Columbus we headed over to LVL UP Paintball. I think it rained the previous 5 days in Columbus and by the end of the battles we were all covered in mud. People were losing their shoes in the mud and the paintball facility ran out of paintballs to sell. They had 5 different fields to play on and we mixed it up with some speed ball and some tactical fields. By the end of our time there we were exhausted from running around in the mud. After cleaning ourselves up as best as possible we headed for Nationwide Arena to see the Columbus Blue Jackets Pro Hockey team. They won the game 3-2 and it was a great time hanging out and watching the game with these young men. On the way home we grabbed some pizza and said our goodbyes. We had a great time and the guy were excited and already talking about the spring visit.
I hate to uninvited one of our campers on a visit. We get such limited time to hang out with these guys, but it is important these guys learn priorities and make sure they are taking care of the important things.
The Winter visit began by having dinner with William Slate. Will decided to go to Origami Sushi even though he is allergic to Shellfish. Luckily, there was no trips to the hospital because he was aware of his allergies and ate sushi that contained no shellfish. Afterwards, Will wanted to go to the high school basketball game. We first stopped by the soccer match that was going on and stayed for the first half. The game began to slow down so we decided to make our way to the gymnasium to watch the basketball game. We were able to catch the second half and it was a good thing we did because according to Will, “That game was lit.” After the game, we went to Baskin Robins for some ice cream. It was on the way there that Will said he had only tried mint chocolate chip once when he was younger and it tasted horrible. I was able to convince him to try a sample of it and although he said it did not taste bad, he was still going with cookies ‘n cream for his flavor. We finished our ice cream and then that ended the night.
The next morning, I picked up the guys at 9 am – which they refer to as bright and early. Diego was the one who had picked the breakfast spot so we headed downtown to Couli’s. Couli’s is a hipster restaurant which does a Cajun version of Biscuits and gravy. Everyone had a big meal so they could get enough energy for Putt Putt. We made our way to City Park where we played 18 holes of Putt Putt. Going in to the 18th hole, there was a tie for 1st and a tie for 3rd. In the end, Corrado took the Win by two strokes. The guys wanted to take a break afterwards so we bought some refreshments and found a shaded bench at the park. The weather was perfect so we sat at the park for about an hour and watched the people play soccer and throw Frisbees while we talked about video games.
We then drove over to the other side of City Park and played Frisbee Golf. The guys had grown tired of walking those far distances between holes in the hot sun so we only played 9 holes. We then decided to go to Drago’s Seafood restaurant which Corrado had suggested because they had phenomenal fresh clams. While some people ordered the clams, some people ordered lobster. For our next activity, we had decided to go and play laser tag. When we had arrived, there was no parking to be found because there were 6 birthday parties going on. Although it wasn’t our first choice since we had just gotten done eating, we decided to drive a few blocks and go to Sector 6 – an indoor trampoline place. Once we had arrived there, there was a line going all the way outside of the building to get tickets. It was a unanimous decision so we decided to leave and go to a bowling alley downtown which the guys had picked out. When we walked inside, we asked if there were any lanes open and they said that there was a wedding party who had rented out the entire facility. We all went back to the car and debated on what to do. A majority vote established that we would go back to Laser Quest and play at the arcade until laser tag was available. Luckily for us, by the time we got done driving around the city with the other activities, most of the birthday parties had finished and laser tag was available. Gabe and Corrado scored among the top 3 players for the respective games. In between games, the guys were able to win tickets at the arcade. After all of the running around from laser tag, we decided to go get smoothies to finish the day.
The Fall visit to Ohio was planned by one of our own campers, Dylan Pope. He was given the task to plan the activities and restaurants we would be going to throughout the entire day. During our weekly calls, he informed me ahead of time of what he had in mind. First on the schedule was lunch at Texas Roadhouse. After a delicious lunch, we prepared ourselves for the first activity… Sky Zone. Sky Zone is an indoor trampoline venue in which you can free jump on the set of continuous trampolines, jump off of a trampoline into the Foam Pit, use the trampolines to slam dunk a basketball, or use the trampolines as an arena for ultimate dodgeball. The guys began at the trampoline arena to play ultimate dodgeball. They were randomly split up into teams along with the other kids at Sky Zone. After about 30 minutes of playing dodgeball, Trenton and Dallas decided to go Free Jump while Dylan and Christian decided to try out the Slam Dunk area. After some time of this, the campers all decided to go back to the dodgeball arena to continue playing more dodgeball. There was no clear winner for dodgeball as different games would produce different winners, but it was certain that everyone had fun Dodging, Ducking, Dipping, Diving, and Dodging.
After spending an hour and a half at Sky Zone, we made our way to Laser Tag. We were all put on the same team. The bragging rights came when at the end Christian was camper who was best ranked among the others. He was able to get the most hits without getting hit as many times. Dylan then had decided that after Laser Tag, we would go play 18 holes at PuttPutt. It was there that we found out that Dallas was secretly good at PuttPutt. He ended up having the lowest score and beating Dylan by only 1 stroke.
Time was running out, so we decided to eat dinner at the Bowling Alley which was the last activity on Dylan’s Agenda. It was there that we were surprised to find out that Trenton had never bowled before but it didn't not look like he had never bowled before. He was definitely keeping up with the other campers! Dylan won the first two games while Christian was able to win the 3rd and last game of the night. After the last game, we made our way back to Greenville to end the Fall Visit.
Just completed my Fall 2016 visit with the young men of New Bedford, MA and the recent graduates from Worcester, MA. Our Worcester graduates had the opportunity to greet and thank all of our Shoot-Out participants. As participants at the Shoot-Out signed in our 3 graduates introduced themselves and gave all participants a THANK YOU card from our summer leadership program. After dinner these guys took center stage with Matt and told everyone there the importance of our program and the impact it made on their lives. It was an awesome day and these three young men did a great job.
Friday evening I drove into Boston to watch our 4 New Bedford Freshmen and their football team play Everett. Historically New Bedford is the underdog in this game, but the guys rallied the team and got the job done, defeating Everett by a touchdown. It was a great game and it was awesome to see these young men in action. Saturday morning I swung through Worcester, MA and then headed to New Bedford to get the rest of the guys. We started the day off with an amazing experience at Vitality Obstacle Fitness. Jordan Thurston is the owner and he invited us to work out with him and see what it would be like to compete and train for American Ninja Warrior. We spent 3 hours there working out and learning some valuable things from Jordan. He discussed dedication, work ethic, and hard work with these guys. Nothing in life comes easy, but if you are passionate and have the drive you can accomplish anything. Our guys love the American Ninja Warrior TV show and were very excited to complete and try all the obstacles. Needless to say we were exhausted after only three hours of playing like ninjas. After the workout we headed for a bowling competition. It was the young men from New Bedford versus me and the older men of Worcester. The New Bedford guys started out very confident, but experience definitely won out in the end. We ended the visit with some grub, conversation, laughs and football on TV. As always it was great to see and hangout with all these guys.
THANK YOU Jordan Thurston and Vitality Obstacle Fitness. If you compete on American Ninja Warrior you will definitely have a group of guys cheering for you every step of the way.
What a great weekend with the guys from Worcester! It all began on Friday by picking up Isaiah, Dontrell, and Luis. We headed to Dave and Busters for a night of food and arcade games. While we waited for the food, we all decided to challenge each other in the various arcade games ranging from basketball, to air hockey, to Time Crisis. Luis was able to win the jackpot on one of the arcade games which consisted of over 800 tickets. With those tickets he was able to buy a little girl the prize which she had accidentally dropped and broken. After being at D and B’s for a few hours, we made the commute to Matt Light's house to call it a night.
The next morning, we had breakfast with the Light Family before making our way to Luis’s Basketball Tournament. Luis was naturally leading the team to a win! Great job Luis!!! After the game, we traveled back to Worcester to drop Isaiah off since his family was moving but we picked up Luis’s cousin to go with us to Six Flags New England. Once there, Dontrell and I rode the Goliath while Luis and his cousin refused to ride. After the Goliath, Dontrell and I were able to ride every attraction at Six Flags!! Dontrell was FINALLY able to convince Luis and his cousin to ride one attraction before leaving the park, which was awesome and the day was complete so we headed back home.
The weekend visit was off to a great start when after picking up the four guys, Christian was able to fix the radio. For months, the radio would not play any sound but with a little magic, Christian was able to make it work. Once the radio was working, Dylan was able to get the Bluetooth to connect to his device. Dylan was then appointed as the DJ for the remainder of the trip. After driving through an impromptu snow storm, we made it to the hotel in Indianapolis.
We checked in, and then hopped back in the vehicle to go to dinner. We all decided to go to Charleston’s, where the guys ate burgers, steaks, and ribs. Once we returned to the hotel, the guys wanted to go swimming but unfortunately, no one had remembered to pack their swimsuits. The guys then decided to play a game which brought much laughter to everyone. The game consists of one person putting on headphones with music playing so they cannot hear what the others are saying. The others then come up with a sentence that they try to get the person with the headphones to repeat. Repeating the sentence is much harder than it seems because there is an endless possibility of what it could be. After multiple rounds of this, the guys ended up calling it a night and decided to go to sleep.
Saturday began with a great breakfast at the hotel. We then made our way to the stadium for the Super Cross event. We met up with Brian Rehmert at the stadium and were able to go into the area where all of the bikes and buses were. Unfortunately the weather was cold so the riders were not outside. While we were there, the guys were able to try out Virtual Reality and sit on some of the dirt bikes. Once the Stadium opened up, we watched many of the Practice and Qualifying Rounds leading up to the Main Events. The guys ended up cheering for the Stewart brothers who raced in both of the Main Events. Once the race was over, we headed back to the hotel and played some more rounds of the sentence-guessing game before going to bed. The weekend ended with breakfast at the hotel, packing, and then driving back to Ohio.
My winter visit with the wild and crazy crews from Providence, RI and Worcester, MA, was once again filled with good conversation, good food, and a lot of fun and laughter. Thursday night, our recent graduate Dennilson DaRosa and his brother Melson got a chance to do something not many others get the chance to do. The amazing painter and artist Brian Fox opened up his studio for a private tour and conversation about art and being an artist. Brian is an amazing artist and person who has been a great friend of Matt’s and the entire Light Foundation family. Brian is only open to the public once a year for 2 days and when Dennilson asked if he could visit with him, Brian said, “Anytime!” and it was an awesome experience seeing his studio. Dennilson and his brother fired question after question to Brian and he gave them both so much insight and information that the kids were smiling the entire 45 minute ride home because of the exclusive visit. THANK YOU Brian Fox for your time! You are a great man!
On Friday, counselor Edgar and I picked up the kids and we all headed to watch Luis Ojeda and his basketball team put on a clinic and execute an excellent game plan designed by his coach and Dad. It was great to see Luis O in his element on the court doing his thing. We all spent Friday night at Matt’s house getting ready for Saturday’s ski trip to Wachusett Mountain.
On Saturday some of the guys headed with Matt and his family to cheer Matt’s son, Will, on to victory on the basketball court for his game. The other guys woke up and started making breakfast. Chef Luis Ojeda was in control of the kitchen and did a fabulous job. We had some fruit, pancakes, eggs, sausage, bacon, and OJ. After breakfast, we drove up to Wachusett Mountain for some skiing. The team at Wachusett Mountain is top notch and took very good care of us. After getting our gear and spending a couple of hours out on the mountain, they put us up in a suite and we ate lunch while talking about the adventures on the slopes. After lunch, we had time for a couple more runs before heading back home for the day.
It was a great visit. It was so incredible to see these guys and hang out with them. We missed seeing both Ethan and Ellijah from the Providence crew, as they were competing in basketball games for their school. From the Worcester group, we were missing Luis M as he is in Utah working on bettering his life with the help of some tremendously kind people out there. I will be heading up to visit Luis mid-February and will let you all know how he is doing at that time.