by Melissa Brunner
I'm just back in the newsroom, hot and sweaty from a day spent at MDA Summer Camp. I'm sure I won't be nearly as tired tonight, though, as the counselors and staffers will be come Saturday when the kids go home!
Every year, MDA brings children with muscular dystrophy to Tall Oaks Conference Center near Linwood for a week the kids will tell you is their best week of the year. You see, during these seven days, the kids get to do all the things other kids their age do - and they get to do it with other kids who are just like them. Often times, these kids might be the only person in their school - maybe event their whole community - who uses a wheelchair or uses leg braces. They are often picked last for the playground games, if they're picked at all. They may not be able to explain to their classmates why they are getting slower and weaker while the rest of their peers get faster and stronger. During this week, everyone gets in the game and everyone understands.
It is a bittersweet visit at times. One young man we know was primarily using a wheelchair this year, when last year he was walking. Still, he's as sweet and onary as every (can that be a combination?!). A couple of the counselors are there because a cure didn't come in time for their brother/cousin. We remember him - and all the joy camp brought him. One young man with a milder form of MD is now grown and serves as a counselor, hoping to inspire other young people the way camp inspired him.
The first time I went to MDA Summer Camp, one counselor described compared being at home with MD to living in a box - parents, friends, caregivers were all afraid if they let you out of the box, that you'd fail or get hurt. Coming to camp was a time to come outside of that box - to live and feel and experience the world.... and yes, maybe fall - but with someone there to pick you up. More recently, a counselor has described camp as home. You live in the world 51 weeks a year, but in that last week, you come to camp... you come home - where you're surrounded by people who care for, encourage and understand you. I leave camp every year with those feelings. I am inspired by the pure joy of living that I see in the faces of the campers. They welcome you, they lift you up - they make you feel like you've made a trip back home.
*NOTE: Families of campers do not pay anything for the week of camp. It is funded entirely through donations to the Muscular Dystrophy Association. This year's MDA Telethon will air from 6 pm to Midnight Sunday, Sept. 4, nationwide, including on WIBW-TV.