by Paula H.
"I don't want to go home. I like it here. Nobody stares at me; nobody teases me. I want to stay here forever."
"Won't you miss your family?"
"They can come here. My family and friends and all of you can live here."
A conversation with one of my campers on the last night of another magical week at camp reminded me what a sacred place I have been a part of for the last several years. Imagine someone with ichthyosis being transported from their everyday life of striving to look and feel "normal" to a world where they are "normal."
This teleport, from the world as we know it, to a place that, to me, could very well resemble my heaven, happens all in a few short hours on the bus ride from Harrisburg, PA to Camp Horizon.
Camp Horizon is a camp for children with skin disorders. The American Academy of Dermatology provides these children with the opportunity to feel like just another kid at a summer camp for one week a year. The minute the bus arrives at Camp Horizon, campers scatter around the grounds, reuniting with the best friends they haven't seen in a year and meeting new friends. Talk of the adventures to come that week can be heard: fishing, biking, rope climbing, arts and crafts, baking, and even a theme park. There are, of course, a few campers, hesitant to be there for the first time, or maybe even a little homesick. But those same shy children you see the first day of camp are almost always the ones least willing to leave camp only a short week later. The transformation is amazing and is represented by new-found confidence and higher self-esteem.
Not everyone at Camp Horizon has ichthyosis, but all of the campers and a majority of the counselors have some type of skin disorder: Alopecia, epidermolysis bullosa, and eczema to name a few. The variety of skin disorders challenges the campers to see beyond the disorder, just as they want their peers at home to see beyond theirs. Camp Horizon is one of the few places where best and lifelong friends are made in a week. The shared experience of growing up "different" brings everyone at camp together. The growth and development experienced at camp is truly magical. I encourage everyone to share in the experience. I was 17 when I first went to camp. I had never met anyone else with ichthyosis until my first day at Camp Horizon. I distinctly remember walking with a girl similar in age to me, looking down, and saying out loud, "Your toes wrinkle the same way mine do when I walk". It's the little things like that, things that could only happen at camp, that get me through the year.
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