Yesterday I mentioned a Welsh summer ‘camp’ for children with life-threatening illnesses. Today I would like to draw attention to a Canadian one for children with disabilities.
Between Friends is a charity that began life over 40 years ago as the Pink Pelican Club – set up by parents of teenagers with disabilities, to facilitate their involvement in social, recreational and community-based activities. It aims to provide them with opportunities to “connect, grow, and belong”. Among its various activities it organises summer camps, and young volunteers have been enabled to assist at these through Youth Central’s Youth Volunteer Corps. Someone called Lewis was one such volunteer, who has just written an inspiring article about the experience, on the website Youth Are Awesome. Here’s what Lewis had to say, in a post published 31 July 2012:
“A unique volunteer experience: The Between Friends Summer Camp
“For the first few weeks of July, I had the amazing opportunity to experience the Between Friends Summer Camp project through Youth Central’s Youth Volunteer Corps. I first encountered this project on Youth Central’s website as I was scrolling through the list of summer projects with the goal of finding the usual summer camp volunteer project. Not going to lie, I was initially slightly turned off by the description of having to work with children with disabilities and the potential burdens that it could carry, but nonetheless I signed myself up in hopes of gaining a unique experience this summer.
“Well, let’s just say the camp delivered! In fact, the camp far exceeded my initial goal of simply gaining a unique experience and actually changed my outlook towards others as well as my personal beliefs in general. The first two days were truly brutal days of intense fatigue as I found myself cursing at the end of each day for ever signing up for the project. Basically, my pains originated mainly from difficulties in maintaining control in the camp. Campers often behave in ways that are simply out of my common experience/expectations, hence difficulties inevitably arises when I attempt to communicate with them. However, changes started to occur as the rest of the week passed by, and miraculously, I found myself slowly starting to look forward to each day of camp. As I grew closer with each of the campers, I began to understand them better and as these relationships developed, I gradually grew accustomed to their different behaviours. One of the most important aspects about them that I’ve taken notice of is their openness. They are truly candid in their expressions towards others as they are not afraid to express every last thing that is on their mind, and will never hide anything from you. This kind of direct honesty grew on me as I knew that every time they told me something, they are expressing exactly what is on their minds, which makes me want to communicate with them that much more. Apart from their openness, there was much more that I learned about these unique children in this summer camp that completely changed my outlook towards the “disabled.”
“Unfortunately, my summer schedule only permitted for me to volunteer for one week at this camp, but without a doubt, I would’ve surely volunteered for the entire duration of this camp throughout the summer had I the time. Lucky for you guys who have time to spare for the rest of summer, this camp is in place until Aug 24. I guarantee you that it will be a life-changing experience and highly encourage each of you to jump on Youth Central’s website and sign up for this golden opportunity right now!”
Postscript (24 November 2012):
As a result of this post I have been contacted by a Ms Helen Jhon from New Delhi, India, who alerts me to an excellent ‘nature camp for kids’ that she operates, about 200 miles north of Bangalore. The Boonies Jungle Camp, which is for 7 to 16 year-olds, is situated in the beautiful Mudumalai National Park, and it has catered for more than 300 students in the last three years. Attendees take part in a wide variety of activities, including arts & crafts, chocolate making, kayaking and rafting, astronomy, barbeques, jungle safaris and nature trails, and lots more. They even have their own photography contest. A 6-day Wildlife and Adventure Summer Camp (“Frolic in the Boonies”) costs Rs 11000 per child, which is around $200 or £125. Transport to and from Bangalore is available for an additional Rs 1000. A great experience for any child, and good value for money - particularly as there is lots of healthy (mostly vegetarian) food; a regular supply of fruit juices throughout the day; close supervision, and medical assistance readily available if required; and a uniform and ID card provided for every child for whenever they are off-campus. Almost makes you want to be a kid again! For more about Frolic Boonies, check out their impressive website at http://www.frolicboonies.com. You can also learn more about the Camp and its environs from an associated website Deep Jungle Home, which specialises in corporate events, wildlife getaways and adventure holidays.
Terminally ill children in Caerphilly, Wales (UK) will be able to attend a play scheme this summer, after staff at Trinity Fields School in Ystrad Mynach were giving specialist training in tube feeding.
The local health board had previously advised parents – who depend heavily on having one day a week respite, over the four-week period each summer – that nursing support was being withdrawn. Now, thanks to the school, the extra staff training means that the terminally ill children will be able to attend the summer school after all, which will not only provide a break for the parents (who in some cases have to provide 24-hour care) but will also give the children themselves the social interaction that they would otherwise miss out on.
The latest charitable exploit of the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, was a camping trip which she attended with 28 inner-city primary school kids last weekend. Designed to encourage teamwork, the Expanding Horizons camp was organised by the charity Ark, of which the Duchess is a patron.
Here’s a great idea from Rotary International. Through local Rotary Clubs the organisation sponsors ‘service clubs’ for young people (12-18 years) – collectively known as Interact. Support and guidance are freely available, but the clubs are self-funded and self-governed.
One such group, sponsored by the Forked River Rotary Club, is based at Lacey Township High School, Forked River. Together, the Rotary and Interact Clubs there operate a prom dress boutique – Gorgeous Gowns (previously known as Patti’s Prom Project) – and the shop has recently been running a charity drive. They have raised almost $5,000 in total, by selling dresses at rock-bottom prices at the weekends. The proceeds will be going to the Lyons Township High School, the Lacey Food Bank, Rotary International’s “Clean Water Project“, Amahoro Community Development Project, Relay For Life, the Inglis Foundation, and sending a student to this year’s Rotary Youth Leadership Academy Camp.
Tomorrow, Interact’s final fundraiser takes place. In ‘Dance for a Cure’, local dance schools and teams will come together to raise an anticipated $8,000 for the paediatric cancer charity Oceans of Love. A local teenage band, Reality Check, will be playing, and there will also be a Chinese auction. Admission to the event will be just $5.
As a Trustee of the Chreda Foundation I have a particular interest in children’s camps (we have supported a Salvation Army camp here in the UK on a couple of successive years, and plan to do so again this year). So I was delighted to hear about a very special retreat in the USA called Camp Sunshine.
Having now been in existence for nearly 30 years Camp Sunshine is on the shores of Sebago Lake, Maine, and is a charity that “provides respite, support, joy and hope to children with life-threatening illnesses and their immediate families through various stages of a child’s illness”. Sessions run from mid-February to the beginning of September, and the whole experience is said to be life-changing not just for the children who attend, but also for the many volunteers, who come from all age-groups and walks of life. A special kind of camaraderie ensures that barriers between the volunteers quickly break down, and even the strenuous physical activities sometimes see quite elderly people joining in with college and high-school students (many of whom are volunteering there even during term time).
Volunteers can become counsellors, teamed up with specific age groups; they can choose to supervise very young children; they can work in particular project areas; they may choose to do landscaping work; or some may find their niche in the kitchens. There’s always plenty for everyone to do at Camp Sunshine.
The weekly schedule normally culminates in a light-hearted talent show, in which campers and volunteers alike can take part. But there are quieter, more reflective moments, too, such as the ‘Wish Boat’ ceremony, during which the children float home-made paper boats with lighted candles out to the middle of the pond, on the end of long strings, make wishes, then pull the boats back to shore. This is said to be a very moving part of the programme for everyone.
Support for the Camp – both in terms of volunteering and of providing funds – comes by word-of-mouth: people who attend recommend the experience to friends and family. It also benefits from a certain amount of online social networking. So I hope that this modest article will encourage others to participate, or at least donate funds. If you would like to support the work of Camp Sunshine you can donate online, at http://www.campsunshine.org/support_us/index.php. And if you want to become more actively involved, you can apply here: http://www.campsunshine.org/volunteer/.