Businessman shares profits with children's charity

Neighbors

June 01, 1999|By John J. Snyder | John J. Snyder,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

MARK VOGEL, a Long Reach businessman, was on a mission to give money away. And he was having a tough time finding someone who wanted it.

That changed the day he brought up his problem in a conversation with client Lyn Mickley. A research scientist at the National Cancer Institute, Mickley knew exactly where his check would be welcome.

She told him about Special Love Inc., a Winchester, Va.-based organization providing recreational programs for kids suffering from cancer and HIV/AIDS.

Founded in 1983, Special Love started with a one-week program called Camp Fantastic. The camp was designed for children undergoing cancer treatment. The goal was to give them a place to enjoy a summer camp experience while providing the necessary support.

With the help of a volunteer medical staff and generous donations of equipment, chemotherapy, platelet counts and other tests and therapeutic regimens could be accomplished without leaving the campsite.

Families have more time to enjoy hiking, swimming, horseback riding and other activities. Special Love uses these experiences as therapy to help cancer patients challenge themselves and develop an "I can do it" attitude.

"This is a camp about living," Mickley told Vogel. He didn't need much convincing because it was just the sort of group he had been looking for.

Vogel's donation comes from the earnings of his company -- PinPoint Calibrations Inc. The outfit specializes in servicing "pipettes" -- precision tools that researchers use to measure microliters of fluid in medical and biological experiments.

The hand-held instruments require at least yearly servicing to replace seals and fittings corroded by the chemicals used in laboratories. After repair and cleaning, each unit has to be calibrated to manufacturer and government specifications. It is a tedious job not especially sought after by research fellows.

At the National Cancer Institute, there are hundreds of individual research spaces and, of course, hundreds of pipettes. PinPoint Calibrations performs the service for quite a few of the laboratories.

The company has customers throughout the Mid-Atlantic region.

Every time a PinPoint technician services a pipette, Special Love will receive a portion of the profit.

Special Love was founded by Tom and Sheila Baker of Winchester after they lost their daughter Julie to lymphoma when she was 12. Julie had been a patient at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda. After her death, the Bakers decided they wanted to reach out to other kids in some way to honor her memory.

The Bakers turned to the NIH medical staff and received immediate approval for their proposal to start a summer camp. In August 1983, Camp Fantastic opened at the 4-H Center in Front Royal, Va.

In the years since, Special Love has grown to include many more programs for children and their families. Camp Fantastic is still the signature event, but now the organization touches the lives of many more youths throughout the year.

Nights out to see the Washington Capitals and the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus and day trips to see the Baltimore Orioles and Six Flags Adventure World are on the calendar with golf tournaments and ski trips.

Family weekends at the 4-H Center are aimed at bringing campers together in small groups. Programs include the Under Seven family weekend, to be held in September, and the BRASS Camp for brothers and sisters of cancer patients between the ages of 7 and 17.

A Fantastic Friends weekend is scheduled next month for 13- to 17-year-old patients and their best friends.

In 1997 Camp Funshine was inaugurated for the families of children with HIV. Two weekend sessions are scheduled this year, one on Friday and another in October.

The program, in its formative stages, is tailored a little differently on the medical side -- patients bring their own medications -- but offers the same opportunities for fellowship and family fun typical of Special Love programs.

Thanks are due to many volunteers and professionals who, like Vogel and Mickley, the salesman and the scientist, use their gifts to make a difference in the lives of people they may never meet.

Vogel and Mickley crossed paths in a cramped government lab with a modest window looking out at a horizon of trees. On a bright day, the window lets in sunlight that falls on gray steel cabinets. Shelves overflow with beakers and books.

In August, for the 17th year, Mickley will swap her lab coat for a T-shirt and jeans. She will play volleyball with a sick child who just wants to be OK.

Then she will do clinical hematology and go back to where her medical career began. Working with the children. Seeing them smile through the gloom.

"It's a good perspective check," she says. "To see these kids fighting for their lives reminds me of what the really important things in life are."

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