By Pat Carragher - December 02, 2022
Twenty-five years ago, Barry and Paula Cohen faced the unique challenge of trying to find a summer camp for their 8-year-old son, Gregory, to attend. Gregory was born with a form of autism, which limits his abilities to speak and communicate socially.
Tired of getting run around from one camp to another only to get turned away, the Cohens decided to start their own.
The PACK camp, which stands for the Pasco Association for Challenged Kids, was born.
“We started the camp because we said Gregory couldn’t be the only special needs kid that needed something to do for the summer,” said Barry Cohen, a recently retired X-ray technician at Moffitt Cancer Center. “25 years later, I guess we were right.”
The Cohens initially had help from state Rep. Mike Fasano.
“He told me I needed to start a nonprofit and get a state grant to start a summer camp,” Cohen said. “I looked at him like he was crazy. I told him I didn’t know anything about running a nonprofit organization, but needless to say, he helped us get PACK going.”
"We started the camp because we said Gregory couldn’t be the only special needs kid that needed something to do for the summer."- Barry Cohen, President and CEO of PACK Camp
The number of campers and staff has grown over the years. The most recent camp session included 35 campers and 17 staff members, including nurses to help monitor medical conditions that require regular medication.
While Cohen is now retired from Moffitt after 24 years, his early days as an X-ray technician provided a unique balancing act to manage his time while also serving as the president and CEO of the PACK Camp.
“When I started working at Moffitt in 1998, the position that was open was an evening shift, which was perfect because it allowed me to be at the camp every day,” Cohen said. “There were times that a day shift position would open up and my supervisor would offer to move me and I would just laugh. I called it my win-win situation.”
The PACK Camp is still the only summer program in Pasco County that takes every child, no matter the disability.
“If there’s one thing that I’ve gotten out of the camp, when you’re a parent of a child with a disability, it’s just so easy to be a cynic and say, ‘people don’t understand, they don’t get it,’” Cohen said. “I’ve seen over and over again, not just in this community, people get it and they understand and they want to help. It’s really great to have people like that in the community.”
After 25 years, Cohen has no plans to retire from PACK Camp despite his recent retirement from Moffitt.
“I consider myself very lucky. I was glad to retire, but in some ways, I was sad to leave Moffitt. I worked with a great bunch of people,” Cohen said. “But now retirement will give me a little more time to work on things behind the scenes. A lot of people see the camp as something that only takes place three weeks a year, but there is work to be done all year long and a lot of work to keep this thing going.”