The Safe Haven Project got four aces last Saturday night in Oak Bluffs when more than a hundred friends and supporters showed up for a couple hours of gambling.
The event, a first for the nonprofit organization, was Casino Night at the Oyster Bar Grill on Circuit avenue.
Blackjack dealers wore stiff white shirts and dealt like the professionals from Foxwoods. “Oh, they are all local,” said Deanna Ahearn Laird, a longtime supporter of Safe Haven and volunteer on the camp committee.
Daniel Paine, who owns a store on Vineyard Haven’s Main street, passed out cards to players and shuffled chips as if he owned the place.
Robyn Reilly, wearing a long gown, spun the money wheel as if she were on the air with Wheel of Fortune.
House bankers Jon Laird and Jim Pringle dressed for their role, down to accountant visor caps.
Longtime camp director of programs Tony Lombardi moved swiftly through the restaurant, sometimes carrying a tray as a waiter and sometimes exchanging handshakes with participants.
Mr. Lombardi, with his friends, runs the Safe Haven Project on the Island. He has done it successfully for 14 years. The camp offers participants ages 5 to 18 an opportunity and adventure they’ll never get anywhere else.
Each camper’s life has somehow felt the impact of HIV/AIDS. They are either infected themselves, or someone dear to them is.
“These youths get wonderful care and attention and their days are full of activity,” Deanna Laird said of the camp.
For Ms. Laird, a nurse, “This is about giving when they need it most,” she said.
The youths come to the Vineyard from Boston, Providence and Philadelphia. In the past, as many as 35 to 40 youths have spent a week at the camp for fellowship, mostly fun and life-altering companionship.
Casino Night was about raising funds for the coming season. This year’s spring camp will be run from April 19 to 26. The week costs about $1,000 per child.
“Some of the faces at the camp are familiar from year to year,” Ms. Laird said. “We’ve got counselors in the camp who were originally six-year-old campers. In 14 years, these kids have grown up and they have joined in to help.”
To meet some of the camp’s financial needs, the nonprofit organization last autumn held a raffle for a ski trip. Saturday night’s casino was the first-ever.
The annual cost of the camp is $32,000, though Ms. Laird said, “A lot of help comes through in-kind services.”
At the Casino Night, the organization had sought to raise $5,000. When the counting was over, $4,000 had been raised.
“I think it was a great turnout. I think we’ll do it again,” Ms. Laird said.
Contributions for the camp can be sent to the Safe Haven Project, Box 24, Vineyard Haven MA 02568. The Web site is safehavenproject.org.