For 87 years, Sunshine Camp has run free sessions for children and adolescents living with disabilities. Each week plays host to a different group of kids sharing a similar illness and thus provides a crucial opportunity for normalcy and FUN in the year. I have had the privilege of being a counselor during the weeks hosted by the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA). While there are several forms of Muscular Dystrophy and some are more severe than others, children with the disease often miss out on a “typical childhood”. They are unable to enjoy the same activities as healthier kids and, in many cases, spend a great deal of time at scary or painful medical appointments. For these children, this week means not only summer camp—it means they can finally be kids. They need not think of themselves as "different" from anyone since everyone is there to cut loose. Additionally, the entire camp is wheelchair accessible! Each camper is linked up with one counselor who cares for their physical need and offers support and friendship. This ratio is fantastic and facilitates deep bonds that can truly last a forever.
I first volunteered to be a counselor in the summer of 2003 when I was 16. If you're reading closely, that's also the year I was first diagnosed with Spondylitis. Aside from really wanting to take part in MDA camp, I can't help but think it took me out of my own head for a while. It absolutely gave me new perspective. From the moment my first camper's information packet arrived in the mail, I was hooked.
I should also mention that MDA camp is where the Ferrarone family first came on the scene: Sara and Laura (the cuties on the left) who were campers at the time, their amazing parents Bob and Margaret, and of course their brother John who was my fellow counselor, friend for 7 years and now my boyfriend. Camp also brought the Bowers women into my life and I plan to share more about them soon. I'm forever grateful to Sunshine Camp for what it's done for me and for every child it touches; for introducing me to some of the best people out there and showing me direction in life.
Here are some photos from all the summers I spent at camp. I think they capture the spirit pretty well...
On the left is a picture from my first summer with Mary Bowers (my camper, friend and full-time hero). On the right is Laura Ferrarone, the younger of John's two beautiful sisters. Under the photo with Mary, is one with Sara ( John's other sister). She's a sweetheart and both Sara and Laura inspire me more than they know. I also included a photo from the night our campers were handed paint brushes and face paint and told to design our faces. At camp, the messier and goofier the counselors look correlates directly to how much fun the campers have. I, for one, have sat in kiddie pools of dog food, been made into a human sundae, you name it! It's the best.
I also included a photo of Mary and I playing around during free swim - a daily, favorite past time at camp. The pool is adapted so everyone has the opportunity to swim. Those with greater mobility issues can either sit in a pool chair while being rolled down a ramp into the water or use the special lift that lowers them gently in. I'm tellin you, nothing is off limits at camp.
There are PLENTY more where that came from, but I'll leave those photos for another day. Interested in volunteering at MDA camp ? Search for your local MDA office and inquire about filling out an application. It's been life-changing for me. Thanks again for reading - until later!