There are times in your life when you get to experience something special and you know you’ll never be the same again.
I had one of those experiences this past week while visiting one of the Muscular Dystrophy Association Summer Camps for kids in Illinois. It was unbelievably powerful, important and wonderful to be part of this incredible experience with the MDA and 6 of my blogging friends – Christine, Vera, Jessica, Ellen, Wendi and Jen.
The MDA Summer Camp provides thousands of kids with muscular dystrophy and related muscle-debilitating diseases “the best week of the year.” I got to see this first-hand and it was awesome. One of the girls in my camp group let me know that she starts to get excited in January about camp! This was her 8th year coming! You could see the passion and excitement in her eyes as she told me. This is what she waits for each year, this awesome and fun week with her friends. MDA Summer Camps — offered at no charge to families — give kids with limited muscle strength and mobility a life-changing experience in an environment without barriers. It’s a week where they’re free to enjoy adventures like horseback riding, archery, swimming and fishing, develop lifelong friendships and build self-confidence and independence that are critical to living longer and growing stronger.
Reading about the camp beforehand was one thing, but being there… getting to be part of the camp groups, meeting the campers, chatting with the camp counselors, laughing and playing with the kids, getting involved in the activities and helping out… it was extraordinary for me. I got to see these wonderful campers #LiveUnlimited.
When our blogger group first arrived at camp, we were each assigned to a different camp group. It was funny, I actually started to have those first-day-of-school butterflies in my stomach. Will the campers like me? Will the campers include me into the activities? Will I make friends fast?
Yes. Yes. And yes.
The second I walked over to my camp group, I was greeted with, “You’re here!!” and smiles all around. Talk about the perfect way to make my butterflies go away! I was welcomed with open arms by the campers and counselors immediately! I LOVED hearing that I was joining into the Golden Goddesses camp group, 6 girls all between the ages of 14-17. I knew I was in perfect company! I was also joined with my fellow blogging friend Jessica Ashley. We had the wonderful opportunity to be part of the Golden Goddesses for the day! And the best part, they all called us, “Mom!” Made me smile from ear to ear all day!
The first order of business for the girls?
They wanted to show us what their cabin looked like! I’ve never been to camp before, so for me, this is all new. It was awesome seeing their traditional camp cabin. It’s exactly what I pictured for summer camp. The best part was seeing how they decorated it! Each one of the girls took pride in showing us what they’d done and also sharing with us that the boys cabin was 2 down! 🙂
First activity of the day was archery. I’ve only seen archery from a distance before, so this was a new experiencefor me to be part of and watch it all go down.
The kids lit up when they heard it was archery day! It was really cute and they all sat quietly listening to the instructor go through the directions and course of the activity. I was so impressed with how the girls did! Each of them hit the target, which is something I couldn’t do! It was cute because I asked one of the girl’s how she got so good and she told me with a huge smile, “I practice during the year.”
We had 30 minutes of downtime after archery, so the camp counselors brought the kids over to the basketball courts where some MAJOR fun went down!
It was really cool because it was apparent something fun was going to happen over at the basketball court, but I just wasn’t sure what! The girls in my group kept telling me, “Wait and see!” The counselors set up an obstacle course where they were then blindfolded and brought thru the obstacles by the help of a camper. I’m telling you, this was SO MUCH FUN for the campers! There was so much laughter and happiness!
The girls loved leading the counselors through the obstacles… when they didn’t do something right, water came gushing from every direction! It was so much fun to watch and see! Belly laughter from everyone. I loved seeing the campers all get excited and all get involved in some way! Fellow campers were yelling from the sidelines to go right or left or backwards to the counselors! What a great activity for everyone!
Next up for my Golden Goddesses was lake time!
There were canoes, kayaks and fishing for everyone! What I loved about heading over to the lake with my campers was that the water has always been the most calming place in the world for me. Whenever I’m feeling stressed or overwhelmed with anything, I go to the water and I just sit and watch it. The water has always been a calming and soothing place for me. I was chatting with one of the campers on my way over and I loved hearing her say that she just “loved being by the water because it makes me happy.”
I loved seeing her go directly to the canoe area – put on her life jacket and get ready to head out for a ride! There are places in this world that are true happy places for people, it was obvious for these campers, my friend in particular, too – that this was one of them. It was so peaceful watching everyone enjoy the beauty of the lake.
After the lake, it was time for lunch! This was my favorite part of the day. I had gotten to know my campers well, so I really felt part of the group. I LOVED being called “Mom!” by the Golden Goddesses, made me truly feel right at home. It was so sweet to see 2 of the campers save me a seat at lunch! I actually was worried that I wasn’t going to get a seat and when I saw that they saved me one, it just meant the world to me. Lunch was amazing because I got a chance to chat with “my girls.” I really bonded with 2 of the campers, both of whom are new to the older age group this year at camp. They’re both 14 years old, which I have 2 15 year old nieces, so this age group is fun for me. I loved talking about clothes and pop stars (they aren’t that into Justin Bieber!) and camp next year and the boy cabin and hair styles. It was fun to just be a girly girl with them! They asked about my kids and I shared silly stories about my sons and my daughter. Lunch was just so much fun! Not to mention, I even got to take part in an EDP… for those not familiar – an EMERGENCY DANCE PARTY!!
And!! I’m excited to share, Dawn (one of the counselor’s who has been there for 19 years!) made me a friendship bracelet to remember the girls!
The counselors. Wow. What can I possibly say about these incredible individuals? Let me preface with this, each of these counselors are volunteering their time at the MDA camps. I got to see every counselor in action during breakfast, lunch and the obstacle course… but I really got to know the 8 Golden Goddessess’ counselors best. Each one of the ladies is extraordinary. They are patient. They are kind. They are dedicated and devoted to each and every camper. They have such a passion to make each camper feel excited and included and enjoying the best experience possible. I can’t say enough good things.
On my flight home, I sat and thought about the Golden Goddesses. It was tough leaving. It’s amazing that you can bond and feel a connection with people in such a short amount of time. The 6 campers from the Golden Goddesses, I will remember forever. These girls were the kindest, funniest, most caring and energetic girls! I loved that I got to meet each of them and really feel a special bond. These girls showed me that anything is possible. These girls showed me that can’t isn’t an option. Everything is can.
These girls changed me.
I can’t thank the MDA enough for allowing me to spend a day at camp.
The experience was awesome.
I love knowing that I have 14 new friends in this world – all Golden Goddesses – 6 campers and 8 counselors. That for me is the greatest gift of all.
How can you get involved and support this incredible organization?
– Create your #LiveUnlimited image at mda.org/LiveUnlimited that shows how you’re defying limits, just like these kids are. For each image shared through July 31, a generous sponsor is donating $5 to MDA, up to $30,000, to support research, programs and services like MDA Summer Camp. (People can continue to share their images after July 31, however shares will no longer be matched with a donation after that date.)
– Support MDA families and programs like Summer Camp by buying a Live Unlimited bracelet from Endorphin Warrior at http://www.endorphinwarrior.com/live-unlimited.
$6 from the sale of each bracelet goes directly to MDA to help kids like those I met at Summer Camp. I wear mine every single day!
– Support MDA Summer Camp by making a donation at mda.org and/or learn how you can become a summer camp volunteer counselor.
Disclosure: This is a partnership with MDA. All opinions are 100% my own.