History & Legacy
In 2009, Camp LUCK began when the passions of four people merged. Jay “Bird” Thompson, our current Camp Director, and his friend, Dr. Rene Herlong, a Pediatric Cardiologist, had a vision of creating a summer camp for children with significant congenital heart disease. They pitched this idea to a heart-family support group, Levine Cardiac Kids. At that meeting, they learned that they had two very enthusiastic partners in a heart mom, Kim Jackson, and her heart kid, Jacob. A teenager at the time, Jacob had been to a heart camp in California and he and his mother were eager to provide local kids with a similar residential camp experience. This melding of passions was the spark that ignited others to join in the effort, and Camp LUCK was born.
Initially, in 2010, Camp LUCK held a weekend Family Camp for the families in Levine Cardiac Kids. It was a resounding success. After our first Family Camp, we formed a Board of Directors and began the task of creating a Kids Camp. Sadly, later that year, Jacob Jackson passed away following his last surgery to correct a heart defect. Our Camp LUCK community was devastated. We all knew how much Jacob had wanted to have a Kids Camp for his friends with heart problems. His death turned that spark into a bonfire! We became energetic and even more determined to create Camp LUCK as Jacob’s legacy.
In 2012, we held our inaugural Kids Camp on the grounds of the YMCA Camp Cherokee and it continues to grow each year. Much of our success belongs to the vision of our four founders and the support of our many wonderful volunteers, staff, donors and especially our heart families.
One of the founders who continues to inspire our Camp LUCK family is Dr. Rene Herlong, or “Dr. Rene” to the kids. As the Medical Director of YMCA Camp Cherokee and Chief of Pediatric Cardiology at Levine Children’s Sanger Heart & Vascular Clinic, he realized that he wanted to do more than just treat heart kids medically – he wanted them to have life changing experiences outside of the hospital.
Not only did Dr. Rene serve as one of our founders and Vice President, he was the cardiologist for many of our heart kids, including Jacob. At Kids Camp each year, he was the song leader. You could hear his beautiful voice leading the young campers at “Pow Wow “with his favorite camp tunes.
We were heartbroken to lose our beloved Dr. Rene in 2020, but his vision for Camp LUCK is very much alive! We are grateful for his immeasurable contributions and selfless support. Dr. Rene’s legacy, as well as Jacob’s, will continue to carry Camp LUCK forward and their hearts will always be with us.
For over a decade, Camp LUCK has touched the lives of thousands of kids, individuals and families! We will continue to write the history book one day at a time and creating experiences where
“Camp is more than a place; it’s an attitude and changing attitudes changes lives.”