by Melissa Brunner
We're all unique, but, sometimes, things that set us apart can make us uncomfortable or feeling left out.
Such is the case for many of the kids I saw today at the annual Muscular Dystrophy Association summer camp. It's not that the other kids back home are mean or deliberately exclude them (ok, so some say they have been teased about their differences from time to time), it's just that, no matter how nice people are or how much they go out of their way to include you, they still don't know exactly what it's like to use a wheelchair or leg braces or breathing machine; they can't really understand what it's like to be able to run freely one day, then, gradually, be able to make it only a few steps.
When children with neuromuscular diseases first visit summer camp, it's the first time most have ever encountered a room filled with people just like themselves. They tell you it's the first time they've truly felt like they were not alone. Once the week ends, they will tell you, it has changed their lives. They feel more confident, more outgoing. The friendships are kept throughout the year and, 51 weeks later, they return to what many call "home" to reignite the sparks.
I get to witness this magic for one day. It's a day to which I look forward all year. If you're wondering whether dollars donated to organizations like MDA can make a difference, look no further than this camp. The families pay nothing for the experience - MDA foots the bill entirely through generous donations. It is a truly priceless gift.