Bob Eastland's longtime dream of building a year-round sports camp for the physically handicapped in Orange County is coming closer to reality, thanks to the Orange County Jaycees and a Newport Beach businessman.
As program director of the Boys Club of Buena Park, Eastland has worked with disabled youngsters since the early '70s, offering them wheelchair hockey, basketball and other sports on Monday nights.
Because the Buena Park Boys Club is one of the few places in Orange County offering regular sports activities for wheelchair athletes, Eastland began dreaming of building a permanent place that, in his words, would allow disabled youngsters to get off the sidelines and out on the field just like able-bodied kids.
Eastland calls his dream Camp Whe Cha Pines (Whe Cha stands for wheelchair).
As he envisions it, the camp for disabled people of all ages would sprawl over more than 85 pine-studded acres and boast a swimming pool, tennis courts, bowling alley, rifle and archery ranges, horseback riding trails and a lake for fishing.
But, as chronicled in The Times last May, progress on Eastland's 16-year-old dream-in-the-making has been slow.
Over the years, discussions with several property owners to donate land for Camp Whe Cha Pines, which has been incorporated for tax-exempt status, have fallen through. And donations for the estimated $11-million project, primarily through an annual fund-raiser at Cerritos College called the Handicapped Youth Tournament, have only trickled in. By last year, about $40,000 had been raised, with about $10,000 of it having gone to pay for architectural plans and a scale model of the proposed camp.
Despite the slow progress, Eastland never lost faith.
"Once we get the land and publicize that we need help, I'm sure people will come and help. I don't know how they could turn away," he said last year.
Eastland has still not found anyone to donate the land for the camp, but this year, help is on the way.
In January, District 8 of the Jaycees, which encompasses most of Orange County, began selling gift cards to help raise funds for the camp. The humorous cards, designed to hold lottery and lotto tickets, are produced by California Fame and Fortune, a Newport Beach greeting card company. Company President Eloise Woolcott is donating proceeds from the cards to Camp Whe Cha Pines.
Blase de Roco, the Jaycees' District 8 governor, recalls being approached by Eastland to see if the community-service-oriented organization would be interested in helping with fund raising for the camp.
"I was very impressed and felt (the camp) was something the Jaycees could get involved with," de Roco said. "I thought there was a real need in the community for a camp for people in wheelchairs, and I could see there was not a facility like that in Southern California. I had worked with the Special Olympics--it's one of the projects the Jaycees is involved with--so I was a little bit aware of some of the handicapped problems."
In fact, de Roco is so enthused about Camp Whe Cha Pines that when the Jaycees holds its state convention in Anaheim Feb. 14 and 15, he plans to propose that the organization take on the camp as a statewide fund-raising project.
That, of course, pleases Eastland immensely.
"They're really a gung-ho organization, and when they start on things they get them done," he said.
The involvement of the Jaycees also pleases Ron Melling. The Newport Beach businessman became involved with Camp Whe Cha Pines after reading about the project last year.
"I just thought it was a terrific idea," recalled Melling, owner of Newport Marketing Inc., a Newport Beach firm that develops new consumer products. "It really intrigued me because I had never heard of a (permanent) place for the physically challenged."
Melling, who played professional football for several years after college in the '60s and who has worked with youngsters at the YMCA, said he went to his office that morning but couldn't stop thinking about Eastland's plan.
"The thing that got me was 16 years, " he said, referring to the length of time Eastland has been working on the camp in his spare time. "I kind of read between the lines: The reason it took him so long is that he was a benefactor, not a businessman. Even Mother Teresa has somebody helping her, you know."
Melling said he put together a "marketing and business plan" for Camp Whe Cha Pines and contacted Eastland.
Since then, with Melling working with Eastland, they have:
- Begun planning a major fund-raiser--"a celebrity extravaganza," Melling calls it--to be held late this summer. Melling said that his partner in Los Angeles is a former president of the Stunt Men's Assn. of Motion Pictures and that the event will feature a stunt show and barbecue, along with entertainment provided by television and motion picture celebrities and appearances by sports figures.