For Kids With Special Needs, Summer Camp Isn't Out of Reach

Special attachments are put on camp activities like climbing walls and ropes courses so that even the most severely burned children can take part in the typical summertime activities.

"So many times they're the only kids in their community who have scars, so camp is an opportunity to be around other kids who know what the pain is like and what the fears are like," said Crump. "It's just huge for them."


For more than two decades, Camp Sunshine in Atlanta, Ga., has given kids with cancer a place to spend some of their summer vacations.

"Children with cancer have the same needs as other children but so many times they're isolated because of their special needs," said Sally Hale, the president of Camp Sunshine.

"Being around children who can understand their challenges and understand what they've gone through gives them a sense of normalcy," she said.

Founded in 1983, Camp Sunshine holds two one-week sessions of overnight summer camp each summer, in addition to other programs that are held for oncology patients held during the off-season.

"We hope by bringing them together they'll feel like everyone else and won't feel alone, and it will give them a renewed sense of confidence to face the challenges ahead," said Hale.

The camp serves more than 400 children each summer and about 850 families throughout the year, and doctors on staff allow children who need continued treatment during the summer months to be able attend camp simultaneously.

"Some get chemotherapy at camp or blood transfusions or blood counts recording," said Hale.

"Some of them look different because they've lost their hair or a limb and at other camps they'd be known as the kid with cancer where as at Camp Sunshine they're just a camper," said Hale.


At Camp Heartland in Minneapolis, Minn., children who are infected with HIV/AIDs or have family members who are can enjoy a Midwestern retreat with peers who face similar challenges.

"There is a tendency to hear summer camp and instantly all you think is s'mores and singing Kumbaya, and while that might happen these summer camp programs for special needs children make a profound transformation for kids," said Neil Willenson, the camp's CEO and founder.

With a total of seven weeks of camp split between sites in Minnesota, New York and California, Willenson said the 550 campers, ranging in age 7 to 15, come to camp free of charge.

According to Willenson, despite attending a camp specifically designed for children with HIV/AIDS, not all of the campers are willing to talk about their diseases.

How much campers talk about their diseases varies, said Willenson.

"We create an environment where they can be open and we do have optional HIV discussion groups," he said. "About 95 percent of campers decide to talk about HIV."

"Some campers have literally stood on the porch and shouted, 'I have AIDS!'" said Willenson."Some kids absolutely don't say a word about it and are just happy being at camp."

In addition to outdoor activities, 24-hour nursing care is available at camp Heartland and social workers are also on staff.

"When people hear summer camp they think water fights but it's really much more than that," said Willenson.

"This is a critical, life changing program disguised as a summer camp," he said.


What would camp be without ice cream sundaes and popsicles?

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