Meet Matt Parker! Matt has come to Double H Ranch for many summers to be a volunteer counselor, traveling all the way from Texas to spend a week of his vacation volunteering. Matt is also the founder of the Parker Foundation for Health and Happiness (PFHH), which holds fundraising events throughout the year to help raise funds for camp. Alongside his incredible Board of Directors and generous family, the PFHH raised $14,000 for camp in its first event of 2017. We are incredibly grateful for Matt’s volunteer efforts and support.
How did you first hear about Double H Ranch?
I first heard of Double H through my involvement with SeriousFun Children’s Network and its association with the Phi Kappa Tau Fraternity and its alumnus Paul Newman. Several years after my undergraduate graduation, I was elected to the national ranks of the Fraternity to serve as National Service Advisor and be the liaison between the fraternity and the SeriousFun camps. That increased my interest until I finally decided to take a week’s vacation and volunteer at Double H.
What motivated you to get involved with camp?
Aside from how I heard about camp, the stories I was hearing from many fellow alumni and undergrads that had volunteered or worked as counselors lead me to reach out. I thought, how can these camps be that amazing that they’re the only thing these guys are talking about? Turns out, camp is one of the only things I talk about now, aside from my family.
How long have you volunteered at Double H? Why do you give your time to Double H Ranch?
I’ve volunteered at Double H for several years. I believe I am on number 16. I tried to keep track by the number of t-shirts I had, but some of them have disintegrated with age and wear.
I, selfishly, chose Double H years ago because I am from Upstate NY. I thought it would be great to bookend a weekend to see my mom and family, and then go to camp. Since then, I have been to nearly every camp in the US as a day or weekend volunteer. However, I always come back to Double H to volunteer as a session counselor. There is just something about this place and all of the amazing people that have become family over the years.
What is one of your favorite memories of volunteering at camp?
Every year just before I leave for camp, I arrange for items to arrive at home on each day that I’m gone for my two girls and wife. I do this because of one particular year. My oldest, Halen, was 3 at the time and she was sad that I was leaving (even though I travel for work, she knew that something other than a carry on wasn’t my norm) and asked where I was going. I told her all about camp and the amazing things that happen there. She then said to me, “That’s great daddy, you go have fun we will share you with the campers”.
That year, unbeknownst to me, some of the staff had a plan since they knew that we were expecting our second girl later in the year. Since I had been in every boy’s cabin throughout my years at camp, I was destined to be a Deer for the first time and find out what it was like to spend time with 6-year-old girls daily. The dynamic of the boys cabins versus the girls is certainly different and equally amazing; however, I found myself with a bow on my shaved head and fingernails painted after 5 minutes of camper arrival. It was an amazing week.
During one of the cabin chats, I must have mentioned Halen and how she loves camp and was so happy to “share” me for the week. Fast forward to the last night after the Wishboat Ceremony and our last cabin chat, which included awards and giving the kids their bags with bears. Having been at camp for years, I knew that the counselors would be giving the volunteers a thank you award. My turn came and all of the campers stood up and brought me a bag with a bear in it. They said to me, “give this to your daughter, she shared you with us and we wanted to share camp with her.” That was, and is, my favorite camp memory. The selflessness of camp is the epitome of camp.
What’s your favorite time of day or activity at camp?
Wishboat Ceremony. There isn’t a more amazing thing to experience than groups of kids that didn’t know each other six days earlier and now don’t want to leave each other. It’s life changing.
How has volunteering at camp made an impact on your life?
Camp has made me a better person. I am grateful for what I have and my family’s health and happiness. We try to teach and live camp values at home. If everyone did so, this world would be a much happier place.
You started a foundation to help raise funds to support campers. Could you tell us about the Foundation?
Sixteen years ago, before coming to camp, I decided to shave my head to raise money to donate. Having been the regional president of a bank at the time, the staff thought that would certainly be funny (or maybe I would just be funny looking). We raised several thousand dollars. I decided to do it every year. At some point, it kept growing and I created a charitable gift fund and kept shaving my head.
Then, in 2006, I met a young camper, Tim Weaver, and we happened to live 10 miles apart in the Chicago suburbs. We got to talking about shaving my head and he said that we ought to do more events to raise more money to send more kids to camp. That was the day that the Parker Foundation for Health and Happiness was born. I converted the charitable fund to a 501(c)(3) and we have grown every year since.
We started with a Golden Tee golf tournament since Tim and I would break our hands on the old GT game in the game room (we got a new game donated so no new injuries would occur). Now, it’s 11 years later, Tim has graduated college and is in the “real world” and we have grown into a day’s long event featuring a grand prize raffle of a week’s condo in Florida, craft beer pairing with gourmet food and more. We also have a golf tournament each fall that we started 4 years ago.
Our sole purpose is to raise money for camp. Our board of directors is an amazing group of volunteers that donates 11 hours a year to our cause. Their efforts allow us to donate over $25,000 per year.Our first 2017 event was able to raise $14,000 in 3 hours for Double H.
What is the one thing you want people to know about Double H Ranch?
I want everyone to know it exists. Any chance I get, I talk about Double H. The more people, in my mind, that know about camp will allow us to have more volunteers, counselors or donors.
What would you tell someone who is thinking about volunteering at Double H?
It may be scary to think about, especially if you’re just a banker and not in the medical field. You need to leave all your inhibitions at the front gate and just jump in with both feet. Don’t be afraid to wear that bow on your head with makeup, nails painted and rock that Elsa dress.
To me, camp is…
the single best thing that has ever happened to me with exception of my wife and kids.