A Reflection on Why Camp Matters
Camp has been part of my life for more than 28 years now. I joined the staff at The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp as a cabin counselor in 1989, for what was only their second season. It’s hard to say if I knew how much it would change my life, but even then I knew I was part of something extraordinary—something that really mattered.
Paul Newman founded the first camp on the simple idea that kids with serious illnesses should get a chance to have the life-changing adventures and form the meaningful friendships that every child does, things they often miss out on as a result of their medical condition and all of the challenges that come with it. This camp was to be an escape from the fear, pain, and isolation of their illness. This is what all the camps and programs of SeriousFun Children’s Network have in common. The timeless activities, experiences, and traditions that take place at all of our camps and programs are just like those at other camps—campfires, horseback riding, swimming, fishing, sing-alongs, crafts, cabin camaraderie, and new friendships. But for campers living with serious illnesses, time at camp—time when they get to “just be kids”—matters that much more deeply.
All the activities at SeriousFun camps and programs are adapted for safety and inclusivity. All of the meals are prepared with a wide variety of nutritional needs and dietary restrictions in mind. All of the sites are specifically designed around offering the highest quality medical care in a way that doesn’t disrupt the camper experience. And for the families of campers, all of this matters in more ways than you can imagine. When a son, daughter, sister, or brother heads off to camp, families feel a confidence and accompanying hope that comes from knowing their young camper is exploring the joys of childhood, just as they had always dreamed, all while in the care of trained staff, volunteers, and medical experts whose focus is on keeping them safe and healthy while letting them just be kids.
And when their camper returns home, what makes the real difference is that the sense of optimism and self-assurance they found at camp comes home with them. In a survey carried out by Yale Child Study Center, 79% of parents reported an increase in their child’s confidence a month after returning home from a SeriousFun camp. Our camps matter to everyone involved. It’s not just the camper or the parents that think this experience is important and has a real and lasting impact—so does every staffer, volunteer, partner, and donor. It is this common belief that we all have the power to help spread the magic of camp that is making a difference for more children and families every year.
Blake Maher, CEO,
SeriousFun Children’s Network