Click on the photo above to see a few of the fun activities MDA provided for campers whose sessions were canceled due to the swine flu threat. Photos are from Nashville; Tacoma, Wash.; and San Diego
On June 19, MDA did something it's never done in its 54-year history of providing summer camp for kids with muscular dystrophy and related diseases.
In an effort to protect campers with weakened respiratory muscles and compromised immune systems from exposure to the H1N1 swine flu virus -- and with an approving nod from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- MDA made the agonizing decision to cancel camp for approximately 2,500 youngsters who were to attend 47 camp sessions around the country.
Approximately 1,800 children already had attended 33 camp sessions at the time the decision was made. MDA learned of at least 14 confirmed cases of swine flu after these campers returned home.
As hard as it was on MDA to cancel camp sessions, the decision was even harder on campers. So -- in an effort to make sure everyone gets at least a little taste of summer fun – local and national MDA staff have mobilized to deliver “a piece of camp” to the campers.
“Camp in a Day”
In some areas, MDA brought campers to camp "reunions" or other get-togethers.
"We wanted to make sure everyone had at least a bit of camp experience this summer in as safe a venue as possible” explained MDA Vice President of Research and Medical Director Valerie Cwik. “Although in any public gathering there is always the possibility for viruses to spread, brief outdoor gatherings don't present the same exposure risks as overnight residential camps where participants eat, sleep and play in close quarters."
On July 25, MDA's Nashville office held "Camp in a Day" in nearby Hermitage, Tenn., in which all the traditional camp events took place. Campers and their families as well as camp counselors were in attendance. Events included food donated by Papa John’s, Hooters and other local restaurants; casino games in which kids earned camp bucks to “buy” items donated by local businesses; karaoke; camper and counselor skits; dancing; an awards ceremony; photos; and much more.
All in all, the mini camp session briefly hit most of the highlights of regular camp, with the exception of swimming and a few other activities, said Health Care Service Coordinator (HCSC) Angela Mayer.
On the opposite side of the country, MDA's South Puget Sound Chapter, serving families in the Tacoma, Wash., area, held an MDA Summer Camp Reunion Picnic on July 23.
"Our goal was to recreate a day at camp and connect with the entire family," said MDA District Director Anna Burrows.
Approximately 150 campers, counselors, friends and family members attended the event, which featured crafts, Lowe's builder kits, games, a BBQ lunch, and an interactive theatre experience led by Seattle's Jet City Improv.
It was nice to see families participating, Burrows said. "Parents were able to interact with other parents and make great connections, as well as get a glimpse of what a day at camp looks like."
A piece of camp
In other areas, determined to keep the camp spirit alive, some MDA staff delivered "a piece of camp" in the form of goodie bags and care packages stuffed with items donated by MDA sponsors, local businesses and other supporters of MDA.
"We were fortunate to have obtained several donations for our campers," says MDA Health Care Service Coordinator (HCSC) Johnita Hairston of Buffalo, N.Y. Area campers received care packages containing tickets to places like Darien Lake Theme Park, the Buffalo Zoo, the Buffalo Museum of Science, and a Buffalo Bisons baseball game; passes for activities like bowling and swimming; and other goodies including free ice-cream sundaes, toothbrushes, pencil cases, stickers and the always coveted camp t-shirts.
For youngsters planning to attend the camp session in Hebron, Conn., MDA staff put together bags for campers filled with project kits, coupons for local restaurants, passes to Beardsley Zoo and the Connecticut Science Museum, camp T-shirts, gift certificates, toys and all the necessary fixings to make the perennial camp favorite, s'mores.
HCSC Debbie King from MDA’s St. Louis office distributed backpacks stuffed with sports-themed gifts to go along with their intended camp theme, "MDA All-Stars." Kids had fun going through the different backpack pockets to discover all the surprises inside.
The right decision
Although not the same as a week at camp, the alternate activities clearly were a hit.
MDA District Director Anna Burrows, Tacoma, Wash., said the highlight of their reunion picnic was “the heartfelt thank-yous from parents and grandparents who were so appreciative that we could offer something in lieu of camp. It meant the world to them!"
New York resident Maggie Apotosky, whose son has attended MDA camp every year since 2004, expressed a sentiment MDA has heard many times from parents since the decision was made to cancel camp.
"It's important to keep our kids safe. They're more susceptible, and it's better to keep them at home and minimize their exposure.
"I was disappointed,” she concluded. “But it was the right thing to do."