Hundreds of motorcycles lined the streets of Homer Glen this weekend to support a local camp for children and adults with disabilities.
More than 200 bikers participated Sunday in the eighth annual poker run for Shady Oaks Camp, a recreational summer program for campers with cerebral palsy and other physical and developmental disorders.
The camp, located at 16300 Parker Road in Homer Glen, was founded in 1947 by the Parents Association for Cerebral Palsy Children. According to the camp's website, the group purchased more than 30 acres of land in Homer Township with hopes of creating a summer camp that could meet the specific needs of disabled children and adults.
Over the past 60 years, Shady Oaks has expanded from its original three buildings to include a dining hall, recreational facility, heated pool, seven dorms and two staff houses. The camp offers eight weeks of summer programs, such as games, swimming, arts and crafts, and field trips, for individuals ages 5 and up.
Eight years ago, Tinley Park resident Geno Francione and his brother, Scott Sieger, learned about Shady Oaks through a friend whose son was a camper. Together, they decided to put together a poker run, a fundraiser in which motorcyclists collect playing cards at different checkpoints in hopes of having the best poker hand at the end of the run.
"It's just a great way to help the camp," said Francione, who is a member of the Shady Oaks executive board.
"Shady Oaks is maintained through private donations, and it costs about $300,000 to run the camp each year," he said. "Without fundraisers like this, they wouldn't be able to do what they do."
Each year, bikers kick off the run at Shady Oaks, where dozens of volunteers, campers and their families line the streets to show their thanks. Participants are also given an opportunity to tour the campgrounds for a first-hand view of what the camp has to offer.
"The unique thing about Shady Oaks is that each camper gets one-on-one interaction with a counselor," Francione said. "They're given the opportunity to participate in activities they wouldn't be able to otherwise."
Since its inception, the poker run has become a favorite among local riders, including Mark Laketa, owner of Tom's Place in downtown Lemont. He attended the first ever run in 2004, and was so moved by the camp that he decided to take a more active role.
"I'll never forget that first year," Laketa said. "I won the 50-50 raffle—just $153—and donated it right back to Shady Oaks. There were parents crying over that money, and I just remember being amazed at how much that meant to them.
"I realized we had this gem right in our backyard. Since then, a lot of us have taken the camp under our wing to make sure they can continue putting on these amazing programs."
In addition to collecting prizes for the event's after party, Laketa has raised hundreds of dollars each year by sacrificing a small part of himself—his ponytail.
"I'll usually cut off several inches depending on how much I raise, so this year it happened to be six inches," he said. "It's something I'm sort of known for, so it was a fun way to raise money."
Laketa said he hopes support continues to grow for Shady Oaks, an organization that puts 100 percent of its donations toward the cost of maintenance, food, entertainment, utilities and staff.
"It's one of those great organizations where you give your time and money, and you can really see the difference it makes," he said. "I've seen the improvements to the cabins, the pool and the recreation hall. Plus you see the appreciation in the eyes of the campers each year.
"There's nothing like it."