Almost every August since 1997, I have made the three-hour journey to the mountains of central Pennsylvania to reach the grounds of Camp Victory. This unassuming campsite hosts Camp Horizon, a one-week overnight camp for children 8 to 13 years old with skin disorders.
My first year at camp as a counselor was very overwhelming and emotional for me. It was the first time that I had ever seen anyone else with ichthyosis. Camp Horizon allowed me to be free and to be me. It is a place where children and adults are not stared at because of how they look. In fact, skin is the last thing anyone thinks about, as every child and adult's inner beauty shines through while visiting camp.
Campers are encouraged to try new activities, make new friends, and most importantly, have fun being a kid. Daily activities include arts and crafts, fishing, archery, mask making, swimming, rock climbing, and paddle boating. However, the fun does not end there. Every night there is a themed event for the campers to enjoy before bedtime. Many campers bond while delighting in casino night, a luau swim party, cabin Olympics, and making s'mores. My favorite event is always the camper talent show. The kids have an opportunity to showcase their talent in the form of singing, dancing, skits, jokes, playing instruments, and a variety of other acts. Every child is always greeted by warm and enthusiastic applause and encouragement from fellow campers, counselors, and staff. It is a fun-filled evening enjoyed by all.
The best part of camp is seeing the first time campers develop over the course of the week. Seeing a child's first Camp Horizon experience is comparable to watching a caterpillar in a cocoon that finally bursts free to reveal a strong, radiant, and beautiful butterfly. Campers who are quiet, withdrawn, and in a cocoon of shyness upon arrival, are by week's end giggling, making new friends, sharing their talents, and displaying how strong and beautiful they really are. One cannot think of Camp Horizon without also being touched by the spirit of dedication that is seen in the all volunteer medical, counseling, and support staff. This great group of individuals is made up of doctors, nurses, dermatology residents, adults and teens with skin disorders, and local volunteers. They provide the leadership, warmth, caring, and smiles that are the backbone of the Camp Horizon experience.This year, I had the wonderful opportunity to be on the activities staff and I loved every minute of the time that I spent with the campers and volunteers. Camp Horizon is an inspirational place for both children and adults. Each camp experience that I have gives me the opportunity to learn more about myself and about the courage and beauty that is within others. Friends, family, and co-workers occasionally ask me, "Why do you volunteer at camp every year?" I always reply, "Because camp has given me so much." I can't wait until next year!!!
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