Cleveland — Shaker Heights' own, handsome Hollywood legend Paul Newman passed away in 2008, but the legacy he passed on is snowballing into good stuff for sick kids across the globe.
Recent Firestone High School grad Caleb Thurman is a perfect case in point. He hooks up to infusion treatments for six hours at a time every six weeks, and still plugs into gratitude every single day.
"I just don't like to complain about it," Caleb said even while he’s hooked up to a transfusion machine. "It's something I'm going to have to go through and there is no use in letting it take over my whole life."
In that spirit, Caleb and kids who are up against sickness and disability leave it all behind for a week long camp at Flying Horse Farms. It’s about living life large and loud and happy and included in ways the real world doesn’t often afford them.
“I saw Caleb open up on a level that I didn't think he could," his mom Charice Fort said. "He was free to be Caleb."
Clea Newman gets it.
"It makes your heart sing," she said. "I know that sounds corny, but it really does."
Clea is Paul Newman’s daughter, following in her father’s footsteps now at the helm of the camps worldwide.
"He kept looking at these children saying they are missing their childhood."
30 years now of the seriously good stuff legacy that Paul Left behind in his "Serious Fun Children's Network."
"It’s truly mind boggling to me that we just, this year, hit the mark of one million kids who got to experience camp," she gushed.
It all started with that first camp in Connecticut in 1988. Now, there are 30 Serious Fun camps globally, serving kids with 50 different illnesses and conditions.
In Ohio, the magic happens in Mount Gilead: 5,000 kids and counting have gone through camp at Flying Horse Farms.
37 percent of them are from Northeast Ohio, like Lauren Ramer of Brecksville.
"You just feel loved and accepted here because we all understand," she said. "We all come from the same place."
That feeling, from kids a million times over, is the reason Clea Newman tears up. It’s the important piece of her dad, Paul, that remains.
“There is not a day that I go to any of our camps around the globe that I don’t feel his presence," she said. "It really does make me feel closer to him. In some ways it’s almost hard for me because I miss him so much."
Serious Fun Camps, she says, is how her dad lives in more ways than one.
"It’s changed me as a person. I can honestly say I drove into camp in my 20’s kind of a spoiled brat and left a changed person."
It’s extremely personal for the massive network of mostly volunteers who make it all possible. On Thursday, Clea Newman was in Cleveland to thank some of them.
Two thousand members nationwide of the Phi Kappa Tau fraternity have raised 1.6 million dollars for serious fun campers. Newman joined Phi Kappa Tau when he was a student at Ohio University.
Now, Serious Fun is the charity of choice for the fraternity. It’s another example of the contagious case of kindness that continues to catch on and keeps spreading, and it all started with the power of one.