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Painted Turtle Camp raises green

Event: Turtle Beach Party raises nearly $110,000 for camp

Posted: August 11, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: August 11, 2011 1:55 a.m.

From left, super volunteers Dennis “Pops” Immel and his wife, Sherry Immel with emcee Jami Gertz, a co-founder of the Painted Turtle.

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The “magic of camp” attracted patrons to a fabulous ’50 beach party to support the Painted Turtle Camp in Lake Hughes.

One of the greatest legacies actor and philanthropist Paul Newman left behind was the creation of the Hole in the Wall Gang for ill children who can’t attend regular camp.

The Painted Turtle Camp in Lake Hughes is the sixth addition to Newman’s family of Hole in the Wall Camps for seriously ill children. It is also the only multidisease camp and family care center of its kind on the West Coast.

More than 400 guests, patrons and sponsors from the Santa Clarita and Antelope valleys recently spent a magical day at the lake for the seventh annual Turtle Beach Party to benefit the unique camp.

Sponsored by the North L.A. County Regional Advisory Board for the Painted Turtle, the party featured a live performance by Hit Machine, live and silent auctions, vintage cars, wine tasting and some great barbecue. The emcee was actress and Painted Turtle co-founder Jami Gertz, who also helped with the live auction.

The bucolic lakeside setting offered guests the chance to tour the grounds and see the child-safe play features, wooden cabins all designed to evoke a traditional, 1950s Adirondacks-style camp for children with disabling health issues
“This year, we raised about $110,000 from this event,” said Denise Henderson, who is co-chair of the advisory board. “The Santa Clarita Valley is so generous as a community, it is very difficult for them to find room for one more charity, but lots of people support us as individuals.”

Through weeklong summer sessions and year-round family programs, the camp provides a life-changing environment for nearly 2,000 children with chronic and life-threatening illnesses.

Henderson said that among all the children who attend the camp each year, about 25 percent of them are from the Santa Clarita Valley.

“This is the first time we have seen the camp, it is very impressive,” said Bruce Fortine and wife Gloria Mercado-Fortine.

While Hit Machine played classic rock ‘n’ roll tunes, guests perused the silent auction items, which includes designer sunglasses, vintage wines, jewelry, spa packages, vacation packages.

After the silent auction closed, guests headed inside the dining hall to bid on live auction items, including a helicopter ride with Antelope Valley County Fire Department;  Dodgers tickets and L.A. Philharmonic tickets. Auctioneers were Gertz and super-volunteer Dennis “Pops” Immel.

Painted Turtle Camp
Despite its endowment, each camp is responsible for its own fundraising, and The Painted Turtle relies on the contributions of individuals, corporations and foundations to support the annual operating budget of nearly $4 million.

Dedicated volunteers
Of course, it wouldn’t be a proper visit to camp without a visit with Dennis “Pops” Immel and his wife, Sherry Immel of Lake Hughes, who are universally regarded as The Painted Turtle super volunteers.

In his signature white cowboy hat, Immel gives camp tours and runs the rope course and wood shop, among many other things. Sherry volunteers hundreds of hours taking photos of campers and their families on Family Day.

“It is the most rewarding and passionate thing we have ever done,” Immel, said. “It has completely changed our lives and reset our priorities.”

“We are here every weekend,” Sherry Immel said. “It’s a great year, we have summer staffers from other countries including Scotland, England and Canada who come specifically to spend time with the kids.”

Other volunteers have also drawn to the camp from the beginning. 

“Campers become more confident and self-reliant under the supervision of some of California’s top medical professionals and specialists,” said Tom DiPrima, executive vice president, KB Home, Southern California Division and a member of the Painted Turtle North L.A County Advisory Board. “Volunteering is the name of the game around here; we donate time, talent and treasure to the camp.”

Di Prima’s goal this year was to bring on more sponsors and he succeeded beyond his initial goal. For 2011, DiPrima brought in six $1,000 sponsors, one at $2,500 and 15 sponsors at $5,000.

“It costs the camp about $1,500 per child per week, but not one child pays a penny for camp,” Henderson said. “Also, most medical treatments are volunteered by top doctors, that way, with the time they are able to spend with their patients, they can better assess their course of treatment.

“They get the experience of being a normal, well child at camp.” DiPrima said.

Others on the board include: Chairwoman Leslie Fuller; Co-chairwoman Dee Benson; Co-chairwoman Cheryl Hughes; Chairman Emeritus Sherry Lasagna; Secretary Nanette Marotta and members Stacy Chamness, Chris Chegwin, Richard Curtin, Cheryl Fletcher, Kenny Herrera, Trish Jones, Lena Mayol, Gloria O’Dell and Claudia Weaver.

“This is a very innovative camp,” Henderson said. “I like heroes and these kids are all heroes in their own way.”

For information about The Painted Turtle or volunteer opportunities visit


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