From Mobile, Alabama to the shores of Waialua, Hawaii, the Arthritis Foundation is proud to host camp programs for kids with juvenile arthritis and related childhood rheumatic diseases. Camp programs provide a safe and secure camping experience for both children and teens. Some locations also offer family camps – an opportunity for the entire family to attend together.
Katy Carter of Los Angeles says, “When our daughter Rhiannon was seven years old, she wanted to meet other kids with arthritis. She wanted to know that she wasn’t alone, that there were other kids just like her. This was a defining moment in our lives. Of course she wanted to meet other kids. Of course she was feeling isolated. She had this strange disease that none of her friends had ever heard of and didn’t understand. As her mother, I wanted to make everything perfect for her little life and protect her from the reality of her diagnosis. But, I couldn’t be that friend her age that ‘gets it’.”
For many young people, a week at camp with other kids who have JA can change their lives. Campers gain a greater understanding of their own diagnosis and treatment, develop peer-to-peer support, increase independence and self-confidence, discover new skills and interests and develop the skills they need to be leaders, advocates and champions in their everyday lives.
“What we didn’t anticipate is the many other benefits she has received from camp. Following her experiences at JA camp, Rhiannon has become a strong young lady who has learned to advocate for herself,“ continues Katy. “From the confidence she gained from being at camp, Rhiannon began talking about her condition. She has spread awareness speaking to crowds sometimes in the thousands. She has been on the radio and national television. She has been to both our state capitol and Washington DC talking to our representatives about legislation that will help kids with arthritis have better access to health care.”
17 year-old Parker Lentini attended Camp Boggy Creek in Florida when he was first diagnosed with systemic onset juvenile arthritis with overlap syndrome at 10 years old. Parker says, “My favorite memory from camp was from my last year as a camper. I was climbing a rock wall and I got half way up and just couldn’t go anymore. I was in so much pain I started crying, but below me were all of my fellow cabin mates cheering me on. They were encouraging me and telling me which rocks to grab. And with their help I made it up that rock wall! Whenever I tell people this story I tell them that it wasn’t just me climbing that wall, it was my whole cabin. Because without their support I would of never made it up that wall. And that’s something that you will only experience at camp.”
Most camps have secured their 2017 dates and locations. Registrations for many camps have already opened and are accepting applications for this summer. Our new home for JA Camps provides information for parents and campers, as well as volunteer opportunities and the opportunity to read more from Katy and Parker. We hope to see you at a camp soon!