In the middle of August on a very hazy, hot, and humid day, Maureen, our Program Director, and I rolled out of bed at the crack of dawn. After the morning's shower and coffee fix, our heads were clear and we both shared our excitement about volunteering for a day at Camp Horizon. We jumped in Maureen's Jeep and drove an hour and a half to Millville, PA.
Camp Horizon is a week-long camp for children with skin diseases. It is completely funded by the American Academy of Dermatology, so the child's family does not incur any expense, including travel. The camp director is Howard Pride, MD, a dermatologist at Geisinger Medical Center. Along with his wife, Kathy, and countless volunteers, the camp provides an opportunity for kids, ages 8-12, to participate in the full camp experience. The campers were affected with many different types of skin disease. There were children with alopecia areata, atopic dermatitis, congenital nevus, ectodermal dysplasia, epidermal nevus, epidermolysis bullosa, epidermolytic hyperkeratosis, lamellar ichthyosis, congenital ichthyosiform erythroderma, mastocytosis, mycosis fungoides, Netherton syndrome, neurofibromatosis, pityriasis rubra pilaris, port wine stain, psoriasis, and vitiligo.
The camp is situated on 20 acres of beautiful land in the rolling hills of central Pennsylvania. There are multiple cabins with cots and bunk beds, but no air-conditioning. This presented quite a problem during camp week, since temperatures reached the high 90s. Fortunately, the Med Shed was air-conditioned, so children with overheating issues had a respite. When the night air settled in and the sun went down, the temperature was tolerable. The heat did not seem to bother any of the campers, though. They remained spunky, well-mannered, and eager to do more. After formal introductions with the camp counselors, dermatology residents, and nurses, Maureen and I were assigned our first task. We headed to the big pavilion for arts and crafts. The campers, 80 in all, were broken up into small groups, each headed by qualified camp counselors. Many of the camp counselors had a skin disease themselves. The groups moved from activity to activity throughout the morning. Maureen helped apply glitter and pipe cleaners to a hat, while I sat on the ground sorting through foam letters to spell “Devon.” The “v” was hard to find. Since “crazy hat” night was the next evening, this was serious business. While sitting at the hat table, we could see others making tie-dyed shirts, pillowcases and socks.
Before we knew it, it was time to eat. Howard rang the familiar bell to let everyone know lunch was ready. We assembled in the mess hall and sat down to enjoy a salad and pizza slices. As usual, Howard addressed the campers about the afternoon’s activities. The camp counselors had been given the afternoon off. Many were taking advantage of this time by cruising to the local mall for “real” food, shopping and air-conditioning. Each afternoon during camp week, the individuals affected with ichthyosis gather to talk. Since Maureen and I were available on this day, Howard made a special announcement to encourage everyone with ichthyosis to meet for an hour in the mess hall. We talked with quite a few children about the Foundation and its services. Many shared their feelings about skin care products, their friends, their school and other issues that were important to them. We answered many questions and made some great friends. Afternoon activities were set up like the morning ones. The campers could rotate between rides on motorcycles (sponsored by the local Harley Davidson chapter), archery, swimming in the pool, arts & crafts, hair braiding, rock climbing, dancing or fishing. Maureen and I helped at the archery station for most of the afternoon. We blew up balloons to use as targets and walked campers back and forth to the bathroom. It is amazing to see these kids in action and what they can do.
Near the end of the afternoon, our services were needed in the swimming pool. (Boy, were we happy!) We swam, played water basketball and monkey-in-the-middle. In the pool, I befriended a neat kid affected with Epidermolytic Hyperkeratosis. He challenged me to climb the rock wall. I couldn’t pass up the contest, so we headed into the woods where two trained volunteers were manning the rock wall. After getting harnessed into the safety equipment, I surprised myself and made it to the top. My new friend was on the ground encouraging me all the way up. It was hard to believe he was only 11. Soon it was my turn to return the favor. Halfway up the rock wall, I could see he was getting tired. I gave him the same encouragement he gave me. He outdid himself and reached the top! It was a proud moment for both of us.
At 5:00 the camp counselors were returning from their excursion and it was time for us to head back home. It was my daughter’s second birthday that day, so I wanted to make sure I was home in time for cake and ice cream. It was a wonderful experience for both Maureen and I. Camp Horizon is truly an exceptional program. During the time we were there, we saw children with very mild skin disease to children with major skin problems. But everyone played together and spent time getting to know each other. There was no staring, pointing or teasing. There was only fun, creativity and genuine friendship. It was an honor to be a part of this exceptional camp.
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