Donations To Parks & Rec Scholarship Fund Are Filling Spots At Day Camp
With COVID-19 concerns still at the forefront of life, Newtown Parks & Recreation created safety precautions that allowed summer day camp programs to happen this year. The town department was given the go-ahead to start programs on June 29, just one week later than originally planned.
For many people this year, the opportunity to spend time outdoors has been more anticipated than before. After weeks and sometimes months cooped up at home, the idea of spending time at town parks, enjoying activities while making new friends — or even reconnecting with some who may not have been seen in person since the close of in-school sessions in March — is a big deal during these days of pandemic protocols.
For some, however, spending two weeks outdoors with others while enjoying activities and games is still cost prohibitive. The cost to attend one session of summer day camp this year was $297 for the first session, which was short one day due to Independence Day being observed, and $330 for the second and third sessions.
Thanks to donations, however, the fees for day camp were again covered for some local children this season.
One large donation came from longtime Newtown resident Howard Lasher. Long a supporter of Newtown Parks & Recreation, Lasher this year donated funds to the Parks & Recreation Camp Scholarship Funds. He also divested part of his stock portfolio and rallied friends to offer support for something very dear to him.
Helping others has long been an interest of the former Wall Street trader. Summer camp was a very special part of his younger life, he said this week.
“When I was a child I went to Camp Loyaltown, in Hunter, N.Y., for three weeks, and then progressed to six weeks,” Lasher said Tuesday morning. “I loved it so much I went back as a junior counselor, a counselor, and then a division head.”
It was at that camp in the Catskill Mountains that he developed his love of nature, he said.
“Playing out in the fields, going hiking, catching frogs… it was the best years of my life,” he continued. As summers approached, the young man would find himself growing increasingly excited, he said, “knowing that I was going to be going to Camp Loyaltown. It helped me go forward, and it gave me a lot of love for people. I still have friends from those days.”
Lasher recalls times when he would sit by the pond at that camp, promising himself “if only I could send kids to camp like this when I grow up.”
Flash forward a few decades, and Lasher has held himself to that promise since at least the 1990s, he said this week.
“The dream has come true,” he said. “My Wall Street career has allowed me to be able to help children who can’t have that. Newtown has been so good to me and my family. I love being here, the friendships that I’ve made.”
The father, grandfather, and great-grandfather realizes the importance of what he does annually.
“To be in a position to help these children is a tzedakah,” Lasher said, using the Yiddish word for charitable giving. “The ability to give tzedakah is a mitzvah,” he added.
Making financial donations to help others is a mitzvah that has been taken up by the next generation, Lasher proudly pointed out. His son Lee “was also kind enough to contribute” this year, he said. In addition, Wall Street friends and former associates added to the scholarship fund this year, as well, he said.
Also donating to the local summer camp day fund this year were fellow residents of Addison Reserve, the Delray Beach, Fla., community where Howard and Jeannette Lasher make their winter home.
“We were talking about the pandemic, and how it affected people in every walk of life,” Lasher said. “I was telling some of my friends that I was hoping it wouldn’t affect Newtown Parks & Rec because the kids go to day camp.”
The donation amounts have varied over the years, according to Lasher.
“I’ve been able to give every year, but less and less, and one guy said ‘Oh, I’ll give you something,’” Lasher shared. “Then someone else said ‘I’ll give you something,’ and the next thing you know a small group was donating to the camp, knowing that it was something I’m involved in.
“The people at Addison Reserve are among the most caring and generous people I know.”
While he has long supported the day camp scholarship fund through financial donations, Howard Lasher’s decision this year to sell some stock was new.
“I have been a longtime shareholder of Berkshire Hathaway, and I just decided it was time to sell a little stock,” he said this week. Parks & Recreation, he believes, opened an account through a brokerage firm, which then helped the town department dispose of the stock.
“It was the first time I decided to part with a small portion of my holdings,” Lasher noted July 7.
Newtown Parks & Recreation Director Amy Mangold thanked Lasher recently. In a letter shared with The Newtown Bee, Mangold noted that the ripple effects of Lasher’s donation will be felt “for decades to come.”
The department was able, she wrote, to honor nearly every one of the scholarship requests it received this year.
“You are making a huge impact on these children’s lives, and it is needed now more than ever,” she wrote in part.
Thanks to donations like Lasher’s and others, three sessions of day camp are being presented this summer. Even with the pandemic, programs for children ages 4-13 are being offered at Dickinson and Treadwell parks.
Parks & Rec staff member Kate Geerer said recently that there was an initial fear that there would not be enough campers to fill both locations.
“Registration was initially lower this year,” she said June 26. “But with COVID, we’ve kept groups small, but have ended up using both locations.”
The Newtown Parks & Recreation Day Camp Scholarship Fund welcomes donations year-round, according to Geerer. The key thing for donors to do is make sure they earmark any funds for that specific account, she said.
One gentleman visited the town department a few weeks ago. He finished with unrelated business, according to Geerer, and was on his way out of the office when he turned around and put down nearly $1,000.
“He was so sweet,” she said. “He just said ‘I want to help send some kids outside this summer.’”
When people donate to Parks & Rec, it can go to many things, Geerer cautioned.
“If they want specifically to send people to camp, which is what Howard Lasher and his friends specified — and what that other donor did — they need to tell us,” she said. “When people donate by check, it needs to say Camp Scholarship Fund in the memo.”
The 2020 day camp program is partway through the first of its three sessions. Donations are still welcome for any portion of this summer; funds received later in the year can be put toward 2021.
The donations “pay directly for sending kids to camp,” Geerer noted.
For information on donating to the Parks & Recreation Summer Day Camp Scholarship Fund, or any of the Parks & Rec funds, call 203-270-4340 or visit newtown-ct.gov/parks-recreation. As of July 9, openings were still available for the second and third sessions of Day Camp, which start July 13 and July 27, respectively; contact the department for details.