This year, I received an invitation to visit the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) Summer Camp in the Grand Rapids, Michigan area on their visitor’s day. The camp was located at Indian Trails, a camp facility specializing in camps for individuals with physical disability.
Over fifty children and teenagers, ages 6 – 17, attended this MDA Summer Camp. The ratio of campers to staff was high, with an almost 1 to 1 ratio.
Although the weather was gray and rainy, the spirit of the campers was not been dampened. Earlier in the week, a major thunderstorm caused power outages and plumbing problems at the camp for part of a day. It had rained through most of their time at camp, and continued to rain while I visited.
During my visit, I had the opportunity to speak with several teenagers who are affected by neuromuscular disease. I was particularly interested in talking with three campers with the same neuromuscular disease that affects me, Charcot Marie Tooth (CMT). Although I facilitate a support group, I have not met any children or teenagers with CMT before attending camp. We found many similarities in our experience with CMT.
I spent much of my visit in one of the activity halls. The campers completed a variety of crafts, including painting picture frames, decorating hair bands, and building with wood. In another activity hall, campers were building small boats and racing them.
Before I arrived, campers had the chance to participate in archery. Although staff planned canoeing for later that day, that activity was canceled due to continued rainy weather.
The lunch hall was active and loud. Along with camp food, (much better food than the camp food I remember!) we sang several camp songs. The leader called up the visitors, including me, to help lead a silly song called “Baby Shark,” complete with hand and arm movements.
After lunch, several camp counselors were “reprimanded” for small infractions, such as cutting in the lunch line and leaving behind a camper’s bag. The campers sentenced the counselors, shouting out “Lake,” which apparently meant that the counselor would have lake water dumped over their head, and “Final Fate,” which involved covering the counselor in condiments. While campers pronounced sentencing at lunch, I missed seeing the sentences carried out after dinner.
The MDA has offered summer camps to children with neuromuscular disease since 1955. There are now almost 80 camps supported by the MDA across the USA. These camps offer many different fun camp activities modified for the participation and enjoyment of children and teenagers who have physical disabilities.
MDA summer camps also offer volunteer opportunities for individuals at least 16 years of age. According to one of the camp counselors I spoke to during my visit, camps are often short on male volunteers. For individuals, organizations, and businesses looking to become involved in helping youth with neuromuscular disease attend summer camp, sponsorship opportunities are also available.
MDA website, (n.d.). MDA Summer Camp. http://www.mda.org/clinics/camp/ . Retrieved 6/25/11.