GREENVILLE – The Light Foundation, a nonprofit founded in 2001 by three-time Super Bowl Champion and former New England Patriot Matt Light, is gearing up for its annual Outdoor Leadership Camp.
The 10-day program will be held Tuesday through July 16 at Camp Vohokase, located on the foundation’s 400-plus acre facility, Chenoweth Trails, in Greenville.
The camp brings together 16 boys from five communities across the country. This year’s program will include kids from Darke County, where Light was raised; Rhode Island, where he holds his annual signature fundraising event; Massachusetts, where Light calls home; and New Orleans, where he has worked with former teammate, friend and Super Bowl champion Drew Brees and his foundation. Former graduates also have come from West Lafayette, Indiana, where Light played at Purdue University, and Nashville, Tennessee, where a local youth organization looking to build leadership into an existing program reached out to participate.
The boys will participate in trail-based activities including hunting, fishing and archery. This year, the campers will do community service work at the Trinity Wesleyan Church where they’ll build a fire pit and garden to increase the function and aesthetics of the grounds. They’ll also enjoy a Camp Yale ropes course, paint ball competition, go-kart races, a dirt bike riding program and engage in “fireside chats” about goals and expectations.
“We aim to make camp a fun, educational experience,” Light said. “The main goal is to break down barriers and show these young men that they’re capable of anything with hard word and determination. Although they join our program from cities and towns across the country, they realize they all share common experiences in their everyday lives — whether family issues or peer pressure. They come to understand that they aren’t alone on their journey and others are facing similar problems. It’s an amazing feeling to be able to influence their lives in a positive way.”
For Light, all the hard work is paying off. He’s spent years developing the outdoor leadership camp and a series of programs that reflect his vision for the Light Foundation and its mission – to instill and augment the values of responsibility, accountability and hard work by providing youth with unique outdoor learning experiences that assist them in meeting and exceeding all of their goals.
This year, Camp Vohokase will have a graduating class of four young men from Providence, Rhode Island – Dennilson DaRosa, Ellijah McLean, Ethan Richardson and Rashad Rockett. They have grown through the program and are ready to carry on the lessons and skills they learned while attending camp.
“To see these young men come together and grow over the past four years is amazing,” the Light Foundation’s Program Director Nick Schuckman said. “They’ve taken our lessons to heart and have become the leaders we know they can be. They’ve been faced with challenges and have overcome obstacles in their lives, but after this senior year of camp these young men will be ready to tackle the world.”
The youth who attend say the conditions are “rustic” but admit the experience is life-changing.
“As soon as I was accepted, I no longer viewed the foundation as a nonprofit – I considered everyone I came in contact with my family and nothing less,” Nicholas Vincent, a 2014 graduate of the camp, said. “I love and appreciate every last person connected to the Light Foundation. Appreciation doesn’t even come close to describing how helpful Matt and his entire family have been to me. They have given me lessons that will take me into manhood.”
Light’s plan for Chenoweth Trails continues to evolve. He and his team are very close to completing a new amphitheater on the grounds, which is built right into the woods. It overlooks a nearby brook and will be used for camp graduation, weddings, retreats and even concerts. The mulch area of camp was replaced this year with gravel and stone, which has created significant savings for the organization.
Each year the facility also plays host to The Gauntlet Run—a family-style 5K obstacle run, which benefits the foundation. Any donations or facility fees directly help Light continue his goal of expanding the grounds year after year. In 2014, more than 4,000 people used the facility for a variety of different programs and initiatives.
Schuckman has seen these groups of young men and the facility both grow so much over the years.
“My passion in life is to focus on helping kids see, realize and reach their true potential,” he said. “I firmly believe our program is changing the lives of these young men and will have a ripple effect when they ‘pay it forward.’ Matt’s vision for Chenoweth Trails is amazing. He’s always looking to expand and improve the grounds so this facility can be used for years to come.”
The Light Foundation’s team is planning to create a camp for young women in future years so that they can instill their values in female participants, as well.
Since Matt Light retired from football, his full focus has been on The Light Foundation. In addition to his hard work with Camp Vohokase, he’s also gearing up for his signature fundraiser: the 11th Annual Matt Light Celebrity Shoot-Out. The clay shooting tournament takes place this September in Rhode Island. To date, the popular event has raised nearly $6 million for the Light Foundation and its initiatives.
For the Light Foundation, making a difference is what it’s all about.
“We want to be a beacon for charitable organizations, athletes and youth,” Light said, “to work hard, put their best foot forward and strive to become champions in the game of life.”