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Specialty summer camps create traditional experience for kids

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With school coming to a close and summer around the corner, parents are forced to choose whether to send their child to a summer program or leave them at home. Summer camps are a popular option, but for parents whose child has mental or physical disabilities, their options are slim.

Summer camps such as Camp Brave Eagle and Camp Little Red Door are a few places where mentally and physically disabled children can experience a traditional summer camp.

“It’s not quite fair to leave those kids out, so we created a camp for them,” said Briana Vieke, program director of Camp Brave Eagle, a camp specifically for children with hemophilia, a bleeding disorder.

Established in 1999, Camp Brave Eagle is the home to 75 to 80 children each summer.  While at the camp, Vieke says kids are given treatment every morning by the nursing staff before camp activities. Campers are allowed to bring a sibling with them to camp for support.

Campers get to experience wall climbing, horseback riding, water sports, and other activities at the YMCA’s Camp Crosley located in North Webster, Ind. 

“If treated like they should, the kids can do anything a normal kid would,” Vieke said.

Along with treatment, Camp Brave Eagle creates a sense of independence in each camper by having medical staff teach and train each child how to infuse treatment on their own. Vieke explains how the purpose for the camp is to encourage self-sufficiency, build confidence, increase campers’ self–esteem, and promote a positive outlook and sense of community among youth with bleeding disorders and their families.

“They may have never met another person with hemophilia; so getting to relate to someone else and get great friends that they’ll have for the rest of their lives is the best part,” Vieke said.

Similar to Camp Brave Eagle, Camp Little Red Door is passionate about creating a space for children with cancer who are in active treatment or remission where they can come together and be themselves while receiving the support they need.

Serving for 32 years, Camp Little Red Door is the oldest camp for children with cancer in Indiana and the second oldest in the country. Camp Little Red Door is a week-long summer program for pediatric cancer patients ages 8 through 18. One sibling per patient is invited to attend once all patients are accepted. The camp maintains a medical staff 24 hours a day, seven days a week from Riley Children’s Hospital and with new technology, can now offer chemo treatment at the camp.

The camp is hosted in Bradford Woods, located in Martinsville, Ind. The cost is $1,000 per kid per week but Camp Little Red Door charges $25 per child and covers the rest of the expenses through profit dollars.

“Most of the kids say they get made fun of at school because they’re different or there are many things that they can’t do,” said Fred Duncan, executive director of Camp Little Red Door. “At camp they’re together with kids and staff who understand what they’re going through and there’s no judgment.”

Duncan says campers feel that the camp is one of the places that they go that they’re not made fun of. He further explains that there is no great deal of sympathy for the kids at camp. The counselors treat the campers just as they would someone without cancer. By doing this, children can experience a traditional camp experience and in result, some parents say they see improvement in their child when it comes to treatment.

“Our goal is to simply provide a good experience for those kids and if increase in survivorship is a side benefit because they handle the treatment better due to the emotional charge they get from camp, then that’s great,” said Duncan.

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