At Asthma Camp, It Is All for the Children

Vol. 15 •Issue 8 • Page 82
Parting Thoughts

At Asthma Camp, It Is All for the Children

If you want to shed a couple calendar years, seize the opportunity to sign up as a volunteer for the Camp Superkids in your area this spring. In my six-years as a volunteer, I’ve discovered some incredible benefits to being on staff. I always meet new friends and trade laughs, tears and hugs. And the good feeling doesn’t disappear at week’s end. Even months later, I can’t stop smiling when I reminisce about my summer spent being just “one of the kids” again.

“We are here for the kids,” Carol Kaufman-Schank, RN, RRT, reminded me my first year at Camp Superkids, the American Lung Association of Illinois’ camp for children with asthma. I know the camp director did not realize the magnitude of her words when she opened our session so many years ago. The camp is traditionally held at Camp Tapawingo, Metamora, Ill.

They echoed in my mind throughout the course of last summer’s camp because sometimes it is hard to tell if the “kids” are the campers or staff.

Over the years, I have had the opportunity to work with some of the most amazing people in the state through my association with the staff at Camp Superkids. Respiratory therapists and students, doctors and nurses make up the group; however, the staff is not confined to people associated with the medical profession.

Some staff members know of the camp from their own experience there as campers. Like me. I attended as a child, and as a camper, I found an unbelievable world at my fingertips.

This was a place where I was not the only asthmatic, and that fact alone encouraged me to push myself to my limits and beyond. The phenomenal staff made us campers feel as if we were normal children. We did not feel ashamed to pull out our inhalers to take a puff. We were accepted because of who we were. I can still recall how wonderful it was to not feel alone. I loved the fact that other kid dealt with the same feelings I did. At the same time I also learned about my asthma.

Now, I keep coming back, not only to see the friends I love so dearly, but also in hope I may make a difference to these special children. I hope I affect their camp experience in a positive way. There are no words to describe the high you get when they walk in a room with kids waving their arms in an attempt to get your attention.

My staff experience has progressed from counselor to therapist to educator. Last summer, I was awarded the task of teaching the children about asthma. At first, I had no clue as to how I would tackle this challenge. How would I keep the attention of 30 kids at a time? How would I get them to interact with me?

I felt like a performer when I talked to them. But the kids never turned their attention away from me. They did not hesitate to answer my questions nor ask their own. The best part of the education sessions was how they never held back on their experiences. They never backed off telling me how they felt about their asthma. They may have learned a lot from me, but they do not know the half of what I learned from them.

I live for my week at camp, not only because I adore the children, but also because of my friends who are among the staff. They are not like others. These friends are a huge part of me and of the therapist I have become. They are part of my family.

We know when one of us needs a laugh. When one of us hurts, we run to the rescue. The friendships formed here are formed for life. I miss these people beyond belief during the rest of the year. Sometimes I feel like a part of me is missing in the non-camping season. But I can’t help but smile when someone asks how I spend my summers. I can laugh for an eternity on my memories.

In the end though, it is all for the kids. The campers leave knowing more than they thought possible about their asthma. They know that with proper control of their disease, they can possess a normal life because they live as normal campers while at Superkids. Moreover, they learn that they need not ever be held back.

Staff members find their own rewards as well. We forge lifelong friendships many people never discover. And the bonuses don’t stop here. We also receive the smiles, the high-fives, the hugs and the tears. So which “kids” is the camp for? This camp is proof that age has no boundaries.

• For information on the asthma camps and volunteer opportunities in your state, contact the American Lung Association at (800) LUNG-USA.

Jenn Watts is an Illinois practitioner.