MDA Summer Camp: Something for Everyone

Camper Nitaya Pitts, 8, of Buffalo, decorates her volunteer counselor Laura Buck, 18, of Syracuse, during last year's MDA Summer Camp in Rush, N.Y.
by Phil Bennett on March 1, 2008 - 3:26pm

QUEST Vol. 15, No. 2

Every summer since 1955, kids have been granted the opportunity to escape the repetitious hardships of reality and relax among peers at one of MDA’s summer camps, which now number more than 90. To make it even better, campers are able to attend at no cost to themselves or their families. The cost of camp is covered by generous donors all over the country, from individuals who bought an MDA Shamrock or made a Telethon donation, to large corporate sponsors.

At summer camp, rock ‘n’ roll takes on a whole new meaning.

I went to MDA summer camp for many years. Whenever my dad picked me up at week’s end, he’d ask me how it was. I just said it was “great,” before turning away and going to sleep (usually it had been a long night).

Here are some more thoughtful answers than mine as to the biggest highlights of this special week.

“The reasons I like MDA camp are: Seeing people that actually see you for who you are, being with people who are just like you, experiencing things you thought you could never do (i.e., horseback riding), and dancing without worrying if people are laughing at you,” says Olivia Davis of Castro Valley, Calif., who was the MDA Goodwill Ambassador for Northern California in 2003. Olivia, 17, has congenital muscular dystrophy.

“MDA summer camp allows kids to have the childhood that many of us never are able to experience,” says Laura-Beth Jacquin, 20, of Atlanta, Ga. The MDA Goodwill Ambassador for West Massachusetts in 2000, Laura-Beth has Friedreich’s ataxia (FA). “I love to watch the other campers enjoy the relaxed, exciting and fun week of camp that everyone deserves to have.”

“The people who go to camp are pretty much amazing,” says Jennifer Sutton, 16, of McHenry, Ill., who also has FA. “They’re like my second family — I've been going to camp for eight years and I’ve met my best friends there. I can be myself because I know everyone else is going through what I go through.”

John Ryan, 19, of Spring Valley, N.Y., has FA. He says, “Every summer, I look forward to going to camp — it’s definitely the highlight of the year for me. I look forward to seeing all my friends because camp is the only time when we can all hang out together. It’s always so hard to say goodbye to all your friends, but we keep in touch and always look forward to next year.”

“I would have to say it would definitely be people understanding having their toes run over,” says Julie McMillian, 15, of Dacula, Ga., who has limb-girdle muscular dystrophy. “Since there are about 100 campers at MDA camp, counselors have gotten used to having their toes smashed.” Julie also likes “meeting people with the same problems — it’s nice to talk about your issues when someone is going through them, too. The counselors are the greatest people on Earth.”

Campers can try group activities they've never before experienced.

Apparently, this degree of respect is mirrored by MDA staff and volunteer counselors.

“The campers — seriously, they are so amazing!” says Amit Pande, a volunteer counselor from Berkeley, Calif


“MDA camp gave me new eyes to look at life with. I learned so much about what my real priorities are and how to make the best of every moment,” says Brooke Falvey, a volunteer counselor from San Luis Obispo, Calif., adding, “Another great thing about camp is that not only do the younger children get a week to drag their feet and wheelchairs in the dirt without the constant nag of their parents, but their parents can have a relaxed state of mind knowing their children are having the time of their lives.”

“In my opinion, the dances were the best part of MDA camp — all of the kids had a blast,” said Stephanie Boyd, a volunteer counselor from Oakland, Calif. “I'm not a great dancer, but you don’t have to worry about being made fun of at MDA camp!”

“Everyone just lets loose and acts so very silly,” says Leslie Uptain, MDA district director, San Francisco. “Where else can you find adults, counselors and staff dressed like 80s rock stars throwing water balloons at each other in a fit of giggles?”

“I love my son and, believe me, taking care of him and meeting his challenges is one of the most wonderful things in my life,” says Debbie Walker, of Powder Springs, Ga., referring to 13-year-old Jake, who has type 2 spinal muscular atrophy. “However, it’s really nice to know that once a year my husband and I can ‘escape’ the day-to-day grind and have an opportunity to relax and simply focus on ourselves and each other. We generally plan a getaway and enjoy the time that he’s at camp.”

Christopher Johnson, 16, of Marietta, Ga., has Duchenne muscular dystrophy. He loves camp because “you get to interact socially with people just like you without being looked upon as different.”

Adds his mother Cheryl, “Knowing that he’s well taken care of and happy, I can take a break from care taking and recharge.”

So the verdict seems pretty unanimous — MDA summer camp really is a bit more than fun in the sun for campers, counselors and parents alike.

Phil Bennett, 23, lives in Fremont, Calif. He has Friedreich’s ataxia.

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