When Rob Drynan threw in his résumé for the executive director position at Camp Oochigeas back in 2003, he wasn't holding his breath. After all, the young marketing account executive lacked years of non-profit experience and classic credentials.
"I was a long shot for this job. I wasn't even on the original 'yes' pile," he says now from the organization's Toronto office.
But what Mr. Drynan did have was a good word from the camp's director, and an unwavering passion for "Camp Ooch," a seemingly magical place where children with cancer can attend camp and year-round programs at no cost to their families. After volunteering one summer at the camp after his own father died of cancer, Mr. Drynan was hooked on the place's feel-good atmosphere.
"It just changed my life. Camp Ooch is the most positive, constructive place you will ever find," says Mr. Drynan, who is married with two children.
The board of directors decided to take a chance on Mr. Drynan. It was a decision that changed the privately funded, volunteer-based organization.
Today, under his leadership, Camp Oochigeas, is no longer simply a summer residential camp in Rosseau, Ont., about 2 1/2 hours north of Toronto, equipped to take even children needing chemotherapy and blood transfusions.
Instead, the concept of camp has been redefined. Full-time staff members run programs on the oncology floor at the Hospital for Sick Children. There are weekend camps, camps for bereaved siblings, day camps for 4- to 8-year-olds, and single-day urban outings for kids - and their worried parents - who don't feel comfortable leaving home for a whole week.
Then there's the camp's award-winning fund raising drive. After a revamp, the Sporting Life 10k saw a spike in gross revenue from about $96,500 in 2006 to $810,000 in 2009 and nearly doubled its runners during that time.
With successful fund raising and volunteers giving Camp Ooch new life, Mr. Drynan now has his eye on a new concept to give children with cancer even more opportunities to have fun. The organization is set to launch a camp in the city, an indoor downtown recreation facility that will drastically increase the number of kids it serves outside the hospital setting.
"Developing this is the most stressful part of my job right now, but it's also the most exciting," Mr. Drynan says.