A Special Camp For Special Kids
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      Located high in the San Jacinto Mountains near the small community of Idyllwild, in Southern California, there's a very special campground. For kids ranging from 8 to 18 years of age, it is a place surrounded by tall pines and fresh mountain air. Here, the young boys and girls can have a camping experience like no other. And it's free for the asking. They even get free transportation to and from the campsite on luxury busses with skilled and safe drivers.
      Included in the fun filled activities available for the kids are arts and crafts, horseshoe pits, volleyball, a dress up costume room, archery, a swimming pool, with each activity completely supervised. Down the road from the hideaway camp, neighbors volunteer to bring their horses and offer trail riding under the guide of experienced wranglers. Boeing Aircraft has donated enough financial support to build a man-made lake with piers all set up for fishing with all the equipment provided. They even stock the lake with bass and trout, so the kids can feel the excitement of reeling in a big one. A camp store is on the grounds for snacks and things, as the kids don't bring food or beverages of their own.
      Making sleeping in the wilderness as exciting as possible, there are 12 rustic cabins for the 8-10 campers assigned to each cabin. And for one night, the kids get a chance to leave their bunk and go out and sleep under the stars. Counselors are there to supervise any nightly pillow fights.
      So what makes the camp so special? Why every amenity you could imagine for kids, at no cost whatsoever? The thing is, every boy and girl in camp has cancer. And needless to say the medical facilities in camp are also state of the art. There's a medical shed that provides full services for most any emergency, and if the volunteer doctors and nurses on site can't provide the best care in the woods, Loma Linda University Medical Center is nearby. The boys and girls are medically monitored at all times, in line with enjoying each and every moment they have in this one of a kind home away from home.
      Camp counselors go through a rigorous screening to make sure they will be a positive role model for the kids. They need to be upbeat, caring and understanding and have a knowledge of the medical support each camper needs. The capacity to keep dry eyes at times can be very challenging in this environment, where pity and encouragement can sometimes overlap. Sometimes a tough skin is an asset.
      I'm very proud to say that one of my grandsons, who is training to be an ER nurse, is a camp counselor. He says it is one of the greatest feelings he could ever have when one of the kids under his care comes up and gives him a big bear hug. One very special day he recalls a small tyke coming up to him on the last day of camp, jumping up on his lap, hugging him and whispering in his ear, "Curtis, I'll never see you again." The little guy had been told there would be no more trips to Camp Ronald McDonald. My grandson couldn't hold back the tears this time.
      During their stay at camp, there are no cell phones, no computers for e-mail, and parents are encouraged not to try to contact the kids. They are asked to mail letters a few days ahead of arrival date so the campers will know that they are missed at home and that they have their folks' best wishes for a good time. The camp basically tries to encourage a feeling of independence on the part of the campers, at least for this very short, very special time in their often abbreviated lives.