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Lunch with Ernest

Camp life replaces corporate

By ERNEST HOOPER, Times Columnist
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 18, 2003

Pam Moore has worked for more than 10 years as manager of Rotary's Camp Florida, an 18-acre campground off Lakewood Drive supported jointly by all of the state's Rotary Clubs. The well-known facility has been a haven for mentally, medically, physically and emotionally disadvantaged youth. The kids are eager to spend a few days away from the hospitals, shots and treatments and enjoy swimming, games and sports. Moore and her small do-it-all staff are eager to make sure they have a good time.

Over burritos and enchiladas at Tia's Tex-Mex, we talked about the rewards of her work, the needs of the camp and her love of ice skating. Pull up a chair and join us.

ERNEST: How did you get started at Camp Florida?

PAM: It was really funny the way I got the job because I was director of executive sales at Saddlebrook Golf and Country Club and one of my clients was a Rotarian trying to find someone to run the camp. I had never worked with kids, never worked at a campground. My background was in hotel management. I never in a million years thought I would be running a camp for children. I faxed my resume, didn't even redo it, didn't even mail it. I ended up getting the job, but the first time I drove on the campground -- I was used to working at nicer places -- I didn't even stop my car, didn't even get out. I drove in and said to myself, "They have got to be kidding." And then I turned around and drove off. I thought there was no way I would work at a place like this.

So you changed it a lot?

I changed my attitude a lot, too. Everything doesn't have to be state of the art, everything doesn't have to be brass and shiny and sparkling and beautiful all the time. We have concrete cinder-block buildings, old showers and shower curtains I buy at the Dollar Tree. It's a whole different way of life, but I tell you what, the clientele I work with makes every bit of it worthwhile. I don't think I could ever go back to the corporate world after working with people that are so needy and kids that are so ill.

They make it worthwhile?

They make it worthwhile. I've had people ask me, "Don't you kind of feel disillusioned and down in the dumps and depressed working with kids who are ill all the time?" You know, I really don't. I do not see them in a hospital setting, I see them at camp. They're running around in their wheelchairs and their little crutches and their little walkers and they're having the time of their lives. They're not thinking about the hospital, they're not thinking about the shots.

What have you learned from working with the kids?

I think people who are challenged, what they want more than anything is dignity, dignity of life. I think we forget sometimes to give them that. They want jobs, they want to give back to society, they want to be productive, they want to do something, they just have challenges we need to help them overcome.

Speaking of challenges, what is the greatest challenge you face? Is it financial?

I'm afraid to say financial because it sounds so cold, but it is financial. Unfortunately, what happens with us is that people who come to camp, they bring their own program. If Muscular Dystrophy comes, they bring their own counselors, their own doctors, they come fully self-contained. The other groups do the same thing, so quite often when reporters come in, the groups get the publicity. Rotary's Camp Florida may get a sentence at the bottom saying the camp is in Brandon. People forget we have to pay the electric bill. I'm single, I can't work for free. We have 18 acres and 15 buildings that we have to keep up to par and clean.

What are you most proud of regarding the camp?

The fact that doctors who know the camp will actually release children from the hospital to come to the camp. I just say, "thank goodness Rotary's Camp Florida is there for these kids." We had a little boy two years ago -- this is one of these tearjerkers -- who was in the latter stages of muscular dystrophy and the doctors released him and his parents were brave enough to bring him and drop him off. The camp ended on Friday and he passed away on Saturday.

A week from the day that he was at camp with his friends they were attending his funeral, but the camp gave him an opportunity.

Sometimes you work seven days a week. What do you do when you're not working?

Actually, last year my doctor yelled at me because he was treating me for stress and overwork. I said, "No joke, go figure." He said, "You've got to get out and have some fun. What do you do for fun?" I sat there and looked at him and said, "It's been so long I don't remember." I do read a lot, and now I try to make the effort to get away every now and then. I used to go off on weekends, but now I don't have weekends off. I love to hike. When I lived in California, I used to go hiking all the time at Yosemite or Lake Tahoe. And my goal in life is to learn how to ice skate. I'm 48 years old and I'm going to learn how to ice skate before I die.

What was it like working in hotel management in San Francisco?

We had movie stars and rock stars and we had people coming and going from the hotel all the time, but the one person I always wanted to have my picture taken with was Scott Hamilton, the ice skater.

So did you ever get the picture with Scott Hamilton?

I did and it's the most awful picture (laughs). Remember back in the days when you wore the big blue eye shadow.

I don't think I remember the days I wore big blue eye shadow.

Well women did. I look at it now and go, "awww man." But I still have it.

Did you grow up in California?

I grew up in Kentucky. I grew up on a farm, which probably gives me that attitude I can jump in and do anything. When you live on a farm you make things happen. I was raised by my grandparents. It was one of those type of lives where you hear people go, "When I was a kid, I walked barefoot to school." (laughs) We didn't have running water in the house. We had an outside bathroom. Papa died when I was 14 and Mama died two weeks before I graduated from high school. So basically, from the time I was 17 I've kind of been on my own. I worked my way through college, got married like a lot of kids do and I was married to an Army officer.

You're single now. I know I promised not to ask any tough questions, but are you dating anyone?

(Laughs). If I could find a man who likes science fiction and animals, he can ask me out on a date. I have a dog and six cats. I love Star Wars and Star Trek.

DESSERT: A postscript from Ernest

Moore enjoys Star Trek because of the diversity of the Enterprise's crew, and because she saw Lt. Uhura (actor Nichelle Nichols) as one of the first female characters on television with real authority. She waited in line for three hours to get Nichols' autograph. Moore plans to work at the camp another 10 years, but when she leaves, she won't leave to live the life of Reilly. She would like to be a missionary here in the United States.

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