When Joseph Lentini was hired as coordinator of Camp ANCHOR in Lido Beach in 1970, the Town of Hempstead’s recreation program for children and adults with special needs, it had 80 campers and a few paid staff and volunteers.
Today the program serves 725 people each summer — and more than 1,000 during the school year — but there is an extensive waiting list of campers and volunteers. “It’s just the best place on earth,” Lentini said. “And people know it.”
Lentini, a Malverne native who now lives in Rockville Centre, recently retired from the camp, and has not one but three upcoming retirement parties. His popularity, his co-workers say, is a testament to the many positive changes he has made at Camp ANCHOR over his 46 years there.
“When I started at this camp, it was a very small facility. Everything was boardwalk and sand,” said Sandy Braun, junior camp director, who has worked there for more than 40 years. “There was no permanent building, no pools, no concrete.” Today the camp boasts a large indoor facility to accommodate programs year-round, as well as multiple handicapped-accessible pools, and plenty of concrete slabs for tents during the summer camp season.
The schedule for campers has also changed dramatically, thanks to Lentini’s vision. “When I started,” Braun said, “the schedule for campers looked like pool, art, lunch, free, music. If you look it now, you’ll see something much different.”
The camp now features activities like drama, home economics and WCAR — the ANCHOR radio station. There is a swimming program during the winter at Echo Park Pool in West Hempstead. Participants are taken on field trips to plays and concerts. They enjoy bowling programs on Monday afternoons at San Dee Lanes in Malverne and elsewhere. “We want these kids engaged,” said Braun. “We want them included and integrated into the community, and to live a full life.”
Braun said all Camp ANCHOR programs are a testament to Lentini’s leadership. “He’s a visionary, because the job is never done,” she said. “It could always be better. We were always tweaking it, always reaching for the next great thing.”
On any day during the summer program, the camp has nearly 1,200 people at its facility, including campers, volunteers and paid staff. The program starts at 9 a.m., ends at 3 p.m. and offers its services to campers ages 5 and up. Campers are never aged out of the program. “We have campers here who started at 5 years of age and are now 52 years old and are still in the program,” Braun said.
Volunteers interested in the program seem to know that the camp opens its phone lines for summer volunteers on the first business day after the new year. Braun said that hundreds of people call to secure spots as volunteers — making it like getting tickets to a hot concert. “We literally have to write 8:01 a.m., 8:02 a.m. after receiving each call because in an hour, we’ll have a wait list,” Braun said. “We can’t accommodate all the kids that want to come and work here for free.”
Even Lentini’s original team from 40 years ago never left for other jobs, including Braun, who is originally from Baldwin; Cindy Guiles and Judy Cliszis, of Merrick; and Jeff Smith of Queens. All either still work there or have retired after years of service. “When you lead with love, people want to follow,” Braun said. “Joe is a visionary that leads by example and inspires others to reach greatness.”