A counselor and happy camper at Boggy Creek Camp, one of Paul Newman's Hole in the Wall Camps for sick kids.

A counselor and happy camper at Camp Boggy Creek, one of Paul Newman’s Hole in the Wall Camps for sick kids.

Every summer, moms across the country send their kids off on a kids-only vacation called summer camp.This kid vacation is fraught with worries for moms. What if she gets homesick? Will the counselors know he likes the crusts cut off his sandwiches? What if she skins her knee? Most of us moms have survived those trivial concerns and our children flourished from their camp experience.

I recently visited a camp where moms and dads have a much greater concern about their children than crusts on sandwiches.

Camp Boggy Creek

Camp Boggy Creek outside of Orlando, Florida, looks like any other camp, with colorful wooden arrows pointing to the arts and crafts center, theater, riding stable and the pool. Campers splash cabin mates while canoeing and create wooden masterpieces in the woodshop.

A photo of benefactor Paul Newman overlooks kids at Boggy Creek Camp.

A photo of benefactor Paul Newman overlooks kids at Camp Boggy Creek.

The camp has the feel of any camp filled with children engaged in active and often zany activities like the giant outdoor food fights with huge bowls of pudding and spaghetti.

It isn’t the camp itself that is different. It’s the kids the camp serves. All of the campers, ages 7-16, have been diagnosed with serious or life-threatening conditions.

With the help of 1,600 volunteers each year, the camp invites children with bleeding disorders and hemophilia, craniofacial disorders, cancer, ventilator-assisted disorders, spina bifida and transplants to enjoy a fun-filled experience for free.

One 7-year-old, diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, has endured 156 visits to his oncologist, 134 days in the hospital, 39 surgical procedures and several rounds of cranial brain radiation. Yet at camp, he was simply a “camper” dunking his counselor in the pool and creating wooden masterpieces in the woodshop.

That certainly puts things in perspective when your healthy child is complaining her beach towel doesn’t match the colors in her swimsuit.

Paul Newman’s Hole in the Wall Gang Camps

Camp Boggy Creek is a member of the SeriousFun ChildrPaul Newmanen’s Network, which many people know as The Hole in the Wall Gang Camps founded by Paul Newman. His dream was to have camps where kids could kick back and “raise a little hell.”

Today, there are 30 camps and programs worldwide, offering children the chance to increase their confidence and self-esteem through the programs found at any camp.

Marla Coleman, founding board member of Roundup River Ranch, a SeriousFun Camp in Dotsero, Colorado, says about Paul Newman’s philosophy: “All the best things about camp are intensified at a SeriousFun camp – each child is a part of something bigger than themselves. And I witness, time after time, children embracing the supports and opportunities of camp: they leave camp with much more than they came with!  Often, the experience is so life-altering that you can actually see the changes in their countenance and attitude.”

Camp Lets Kids Be Kids

All children want to fit in with a group and Camp Boggy Creek helps campers understand there are children going through the same medical treatments.

“I don’t have to explain why I have a scar on my chest when I’m at camp,” one camper confided.

Kids feel no shame in being bald, having a pacemaker or being confined to a wheelchair. There’s also no stigma attached to going to “The Patch” (where kids get patched up) for medication or any number of surgical procedures.

The Patch looks more like a fun activity center than a place having to do with medicine or illness. Camp Boggy Creek has a full-time doctor and nurse along with 8-10 nurses and 3-4 doctors available around the clock for summer campers.

Camp Volunteers

Kids at Boggy Creek Camp do all the things kids at other summer camps do.

Kids at Camp Boggy Creek do all the things kids at other summer camps do.

Hilarey Carey, executive director of Camp Korey in Carnation, Washington, another SeriousFun Camp, has volunteers ranging from registered nurses to occupational and physical therapists and psychologists. “We have fantastic working relationships with many regional hospitals [that] promote and endorse our programs. They also help recruit volunteer medical staff.”

It’s hard to distinguish medical staff from the “fun” staff, as everyone wears T-shirts and colorful clothes. (The medical staff gets doused with an extra dose of the previously mentioned pudding and spaghetti during the food fight!) The camp even has portable ventilators, carried by counselors called “Breathing Buddies” so children needing breathing assistance can splash in the pool like everyone else.

Like most Traveling Mom readers, my traveling experiences involve taking my children on trips to national parks and tourist attractions…not trips to the hospital. After talking with parents of children who attended Camp Boggy Creek, I was struck with their resilience and positive attitude. It certainly made me stop and think about the trivial things I worry about, when many parents are facing real challenges.

From now on, whenever I hear a mom mention “camp,” I’ll think back to Boggy Creek and know there is a special camp for special campers.

Silvana Clark has traveled with her family to Europe, El Salvador, Guatemala, Kenya, Costa Rica and Orlando. She’s now looking to settle down and work at a camp where she can use her experience and off-kilter creativity.