Painting a Different Picture of Camp

By Christina Elston

camp

A camper takes on the ropes course at The Painted Turtle, which offers free weeklong summer camps for kids with more than 70 medical conditions. PHOTO COURTESY THE PAINTED TURTLE

Summer camp is a place for kids to try out fun outdoorsy stuff, make arts and crafts (got lanyards?) and maybe learn a funny song or two. It’s also a place to meet other kids like them.

But what if there aren’t many kids like them? At The Painted Turtle camp, kids who have had kidney transplants or are diagnosed with hemophilia, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, juvenile arthritis, IBD, cystic fibrosis and 70 other medical conditions find their true peers.

“A friend who has the same scars or takes the same meds is a really powerful connection for a kid,” says April Uyehara, Painted Turtle director of camp programs and initiatives.

Separate camps are held for each condition so that all aspects of the program can be tailored to the needs of the campers, who often can’t attend other camps. For kids with kidney disease, the menu fits their dietary requirements and special programming is planned during the hours they spend in dialysis. For kids with disambiguation (little people), “we just put stepstools all around camp,” says Uyehara, so things are within reach. Staff includes dedicated medical specialists who have experience with each condition.

All of this adaptation is designed to give children a camp experience that is – at its heart – very traditional. Campers enjoy morning horseback rides and evening campfires, and live in cabins with other kids. They canoe, swim and make art. “When kids come to camp, they have a very normal childhood experience,” Uyehara says.

The Painted Turtle helps kids build self-esteem and learn that they aren’t always limited by their illness. “Kids really discover different layers of themselves they may not have known before,” says Uyehara.

Weeklong sessions for ages 7-16 are offered throughout the summer, and family weekend programs in the fall, winter and spring. Amazingly, these camps are offered free of charge. Learn more at www.thepaintedturtle.org.

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