JA Camps Make a Life-changing Difference for Kids With Arthritis

From Cooper Landing, Alaska, to the beaches of West Palm Beach, Florida, the Arthritis Foundation is proud to host camp programs for kids and teens with juvenile arthritis and related childhood rheumatic diseases. Besides providing a safe and secure camping experience for children and teens, some locations also offer family camps – an opportunity for the entire family to attend together.

Arthritis Foundation juvenile arthritis (JA) camps are sponsored nationally by AbbVie; Alpha Omicron Pi Fraternity and Foundation; and Genentech, a member of the Roche Group. All camps are staffed by volunteers who include medical professionals and former campers. Thanks to sponsorship and donations, the cost of camp to families is low. Best of all: For campers and their parents, the experience of attending JA camp is priceless.

Jim Salanty, vice president, U.S. Rheumatology at AbbVie says the company’s mission aligns with the JA camp mission: To foster positive experiences for children living with juvenile arthritis and provide access to important resources for disease management and support. “[JA Camps] also provides these children the valuable opportunity to meet and connect with others who may be navigating a similar journey living with their condition,” he says.

Campers gain a greater understanding of their own diagnosis and treatment, build strong peer support networks and develop the skills they need to become effective leaders, advocates and champions in their everyday lives. On top of offering traditional camp activities – such as horseback riding, swimming, dancing, ropes courses, campfires and arts and crafts – JA camp also offers kids specially-tailored content to encourage independence and increase confidence when it comes to taking charge of their own care.

Campers gain independence by learning self-management skills, like how to swallow pills or how to give their own shots. They also learn holistic ways to cope with the disease. Above all, parents appreciate seeing how much their kids thrive after attending camp. “He knows more about his disease and understands there are lots of kids who deal with this, too,” says one JA parent about her son’s camp experience. “I think the counselors (who all had some association with the disease) were most helpful in inspiring him. My son feels empowered to do something to help others with this condition and to overcome it. It was an incredibly positive experience.”

This summer will be Kate Stepnick’s 23rd year being involved with Camp JRA in Pennsylvania, now serving as camp director of Camp Victory, which hosts Camp JRA. Kate began attending as a camper at age 11. “Camp was amazing,” Kate shares. “It was the one place where you felt normal. It’s the one place in the entire world where you’re not questioned for walking or sitting weird or taking too long to get some place.”

Kate says the best thing is knowing that everybody understands you. “Camp JRA is a lot of fun with super activities, but it’s also educational. Every day, campers learn about things like self-injections of biologics, advocating for themselves in Congress, how to be independent, transitioning to college, modifications for school classes – things most people don’t have to think about. The kids leave being super-educated. They know more about other JA types, like lupus and fibromyalgia.”

JA campers rate their experience as life-changing, according to the Arthritis Foundation’s 2018 JA camp evaluations. Campers reported that attending camp helped them feel more empowered about taking an active role in their care – discovering new ways to cope with pain and developing a better understanding of their disease and treatment.

“They can be themselves and are surrounded by positive and kind people,” says another JA parent. “The kids build confidence, self-esteem and have a blast. It really is the highlight of my 14-year-old’s year. The kids form strong bonds and know that arthritis isn’t just ‘for old people.’  The Arthritis Foundation’s JA camp is the best camp I have ever seen.”

Visit our camp website to register for an Arthritis Foundation JA Camp today. We hope you’ll join us for a life-changing experience!

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