Former camper now big booster of “cop camp

BY MICHELE MURPHY

Avon Lake resident Justin Donovan wanted nothing to do with Operation Open Heart when his mom first suggested he attend the camp with his younger brother. Donovan was 15 at the time, and the more his mom pushed, the less he wanted to go.

In the end, he relented.

Seven years later, Donovan just smiles recalling those first awkward days because now he is a member of the organization, offering assistance and serving as a role model to the campers he once was.

Operation Open Heart is a 55-year-old nonprofit founded and run by members of local safety forces, all of whom serve as volunteers. They also consider nominations of civilians who are supportive of their mission. Donovan became a member this year as he turned 21. He is not the only former camper who has returned as an adult to join the organization.

Each summer, cops, firefighter/paramedics and a handful of civilian members like Donovan spend a week with 50 young boys who, through no fault of their own, have open cases with Lorain County Children’s Services.

In 2011, Donovan and his brother were among that group. He remembers feeling nervous at first. “Then I got to be friendly with another kid my age,” he recalls. He also began talking with the officers. Camp, he says, was a great experience. He returned the following year.

Now as he scans the group of boys, he notes that he sees a number of new faces. He says he plans to go up to them to make sure they’re having a good time. It’s clear he is recalling his first year at camp.

By mid-week, Donovan could be found in the middle of a group of kids who were bowling and having fun. Donovan was helping them manage their scores on an electronic scoreboard.

Donovan looks forward to camp each year, a far cry from how he felt on day one seven years ago. He says it is the only vacation time he actually requests of his employer all year long.

Asked if it is it worth it, he responds with a simple, “Oh, yeah.”

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