FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — Jennyfer Balkema did not know the man on the other end of the phone but he had her attention.
In her job as Program Director, she rarely gets surprise donations to Camp Watcha Wanna Do, the summer camp for children and teens surviving cancer. “Yeah, he called me a week ago and told me. I think that’s the coolest thing ever.”
Tim Rebman’s idea came to him as he learned about the renovations planned for The Venice, his long-time favorite hangout. The 71-year-old Italian restaurant on Goshen Road has a new owner who plans to freshen things up. “From flooring to ceiling, chairs, lighting, a little change in the menu,” says Rebman. “It was needed.”
Rebman asked if he could take all 130 of the 67-year-old chairs. He’s not a woodworker but knew enough to freshen them up.
“People have come into The Venice, maybe on a first date and now they’re married. The Venice is a part of their life. So I thought I could take that chair and give it a new life. Maybe you’ve got a full set of chairs already. You don’t need any more. You can get online and you can make a donation to the boys and the girls (at camp) and they’ll receive it that way. It’s a win-win for the kids and I just want the kids to be able to enjoy being kids.”
He has a small shop in his basement, now stuffed with chairs. He spends about seven hours working on each one. “It’s all done with a toothbrush two times with soapy water. Once that is fully dried with the assistance of a fan, the next step is to start to apply the stain with a Q-tip. I’ve tried other things: the Q-tip get the best results. It’s more precise. And then it takes about nine to 12 hours, depending on humidity, for that to dry. While these things are drying, I’ve got another one that I’ve prepped to move right into the process like an assembly line. I’ve sold some chairs. I’ve had donations for the chairs that they didn’t need. I welcome anybody else that wants to do the same.”
Rebman learned about Camp Watcha Wanna Do before he retired from Preferred Auto, a frequent camp donor. “Each camper can bring a sibling so if they haven’t made friends already, they’ve got their sister or brother with them. It’s just exactly what the title says, ‘What do you want to do today?’ Would you like to go canoeing, horseback riding, throw horseshoes, hot air balloon ride, fish? They stay there the whole week. The doctors and the pediatric nurses are there 24/7. The boys and girls get their treatment and mom and dad can rest assured, and relax back home, that their children are being taken care of and they have no worries.”
As you would suspect, Balkema agrees. “We’ve run camp for 28 years. We have impacted thousands and thousands of lives. The majority of our counselors have come back, as they were past campers. The relationship they can build with the kids and show the kids that they did survive and they are okay, is so impactful. That’s the good stuff of camp besides the fun and the laughter and the smiles and we kind of let them do what they want to do, hence the name.”
Rebman has priced them at one chair for $29 or two for $50. He says the best way to contact him is in person at The Venice, 2242 Goshen Rd, Fort Wayne, IN 46808.