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Carlissa Puckett retires as of Sunday as director of Camp New Hope near Neoga.

ROB STROUD, JOURNAL GAZETTE & TIMES-COURIER

NEOGA -- Carlissa Puckett is retiring as director of Camp New Hope but plans to continue her work with developmentally disabled people and to remain active with the camp as a volunteer.

The Mattoon native became director of Camp New Hope, which provides summer camp-style activities for the developmentally disabled and support services for their caregivers, in May 2016 as part of a career in which she has spent more than 40 years serving those with developmental disabilities.

"I love the camp and working on their behalf," Puckett said of Camp New Hope and its campers.

Puckett said her work with Camp New Hope has kept her busy every year from May through August, when this site is in full operation. Puckett said she and her husband, Steve, have reached the stage when they are ready to use summertime to visit their grandchildren, several of whom live in Colorado and Texas.

Consequently, Puckett plans to retire on Sunday as director. Puckett said she will miss seeing the campers on a regular basis, adding that she has enjoyed working with them, the camp's staff and its board.

"It has just been a wonderful experience. I am sad to be leaving," Puckett said.

Her experiences have included being part of Camp New Hope as the facility completed the assembly of its playground, connected the playground to the mini golf course with a new sidewalk, and improved the trail system for its rolling 41 acres along Lake Mattoon.

During her tenure, Puckett said Camp New Hope received donations from the Lumpkin Family Foundation and other community groups that helped replace all the mattresses and bedding in the Respite Center. She said the camp also received a $52,000 grant from the Illinois Department of Human Services that will ensure 14 families with developmentally disabled children continue to receive respite services.

In addiition, Puckett said Camp New Hope also has been adding to its summer camp and respite weekend schedules to give campers more recreation time and their families more break time.

Camp New Hope has stepped up its volunteer organizing and fundraising efforts, as well. Puckett said Bill Strode led the formation of a Friends of Camp New Hope group to reach out to former camp families and board members. She said the facility also is preparing to open up its cabins, playground, mini golf course and swimming pool to fundraising rentals, after already having the Respite Center available.

In retirement, Puckett said she plans to work part time as a consultant with an emphasis on nonprofit groups. Puckett said she also plans to volunteer with the camp, including helping with the newsletters for the Friends of Camp New Hope.

Billy Belleau, vice president of the Camp New Hope board, said Puckett is a great person and is knowledgeable in her field. Belleau said she will be sorely missed at the camp.

"She has lots and lots of passion for the camp. She is just a wonderful person to be around," Belleau said.

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