NJ SMART Army Turns Out to Help Upgrade Youth Summer Camp

Published: May 21, 2020

On a crisp fall Saturday this past November, two dozen members of the Local 27 SMART Army turned out to volunteer their time and help install ducts and a new HVAC system at Kiddie Keep Well Camp in Edison, New Jersey.

Founded in 1924 as a “fresh air focused camp” with the mission of providing summertime activities and enjoyment to less privileged children, the camp has now served kids and seniors in Middlesex County for nearly a century.

“I couldn’t find a better day to spend than working here and helping and donating my time with a bunch of other sheet metal workers,” said journeyperson Chris George, who has been with Local 27 for 22 years. “It’s really good for sheet metal workers to get involved in the local community. Sometimes the building trades gets a bad rap. It’s good to show that we care, we give, we donate, we’re a skilled trade and we’re here to help the community.”

Kiddie Keep Well Camp started with only 60 campers and a small staff consisting of a director, several volunteer counselors and a cook. It has grown to serve over 600 children and seniors who utilize its facilities each year, and has served over 50,000 youth during its lifespan.

The camp is unique in that it’s the only camp of its kind in New Jersey and one of the oldest in the nation. It regularly receives referrals from a number of different sources, including school nurses, guidance counselors, principals and government agencies.

Due to its age, the camp has needed unique maintenance and improvements over the years. While its original focus was on recreational activities, it now also serves local communities by providing free dental and health screenings for children.

Accredited by the American Camp Association and licensed by the state Department of Health, the camp  includes nine cabins, two pools, an administrative building, a learning center, a library and the health center. To accommodate this important work, the camp building that houses its health facilities, originally built in 1947, was used extensively over the years and was in dire need of a facelift.

Camp President Tom Tighe, who is also a retired United Association official, reached out to his fellow building trades, including SMART SM Local 27, to help renovate the camp and its facilities.

“Local 27 was happy to answer the call in making sure this camp is renovated and in shape for when kids and seniors come for its services,” said Local 27 Business Manager Andrew Caccholi. “The SMART Army has given us an opportunity to be here helping out underprivileged children.  We have a  tremendous amount of members here working, including apprentices, journeypersons and all the instructors as well.”

Caccholi also lauded the work of Local 27 Training Coordinator John Espinos and Business Rep Tom DeBartolo in reaching out to members via text messaging and Total Track.

“The apprentices look forward to giving back to the community, and they wanted the experience of working on a residential project like this,” said Espinos, who is no stranger to helping the local community work through his work as a Boy Scout leader.

In addition to Local 27 members working to install duct and an entirely new HVAC system, added Espinos, signatory contractors Central Sheet Metal Fabricators and Passaic Metal Products were asked to help with the project and responded by fabricating and delivering donated material to the site.

“One of the biggest problems that all unions have is we don’t do a good job self- promoting ourselves, ” said Debartelo, who also coordinates SMART Army activities for the local. “We give a lot back to the community through donations and projects such as this. Not just our local does this, but all the building trades do this type of work and we want to make sure we are recognized for this.”

Camp President Tighe underscored that the upgrades to the camp’s facilities could not have been done without the building trades in Middlesex County, especially the help from members of Local 27.

“It’s been a godsend,” said Tighe. “We’ve gotten all the labor and 90 percent of the material donated. So thank you to my brothers and sisters at the sheet metal workers.”