On August 18, 2014, 17 kids and teens that live with epilepsy arrived at Easter Seals Camp Horizon to spend the week at summer camp. For many of them, this was the very first time they would be away from home without their parents. Needless to say, many of the campers and their parents were unsure of what to expect, but were hopeful that the week would turn out alright – with more fun than homesickness!
Well, their week away at camp wasn’t okay. It was fantastic! Despite rainy weather 4 out of the 5 days of camp, the campers were able to participate in many activities – most of which they had never done before. From white water rafting on the Lower Kananaskis River, to rock wall climbing, archery, a high ropes obstacle course, mountain biking, a Friday night dance and nightly campfires, our Fireworks campers were treated to an amazing last week of summer out at Easter Seals Camp Horizon. The food was delicious, the bunks were cozy and warm and all of the camp staff were fun, friendly and welcoming people who had more patience than you can imagine!
By Wednesday the 19th, the campers and the staff were already talking about “next year” at camp. This was the first summer in a number of years that Camp Horizon hosted a week dedicated to campers with epilepsy, and I were unsure of how many campers we would be able to get registered and if they would have a good time or not. The smiles and laughs I saw from the first day only got bigger as the week went on, and I am ecstatic that everyone is hoping for a camp next summer as well, which I am only too happy to work on!
The non-stop rain provided some extra fun for campers, what with puddle jumping games and mud fights – and the Disney theme of the week provided everyone with a chance to see their counselors dressed up as Disney characters, and for Disney karaoke to be sung at every waking opportunity. Campers were tasked with creating a camp masterpiece on the first day by tie dying their camp t-shirt which would be revealed on the final day of camp and were put to the test by doing the high ropes course in the rain (each camper completed the course, I guess fear isn’t a word that is in any of their vocabularies!)
One Mom described her son’s time at Camp Fireworks – he “had such a wonderful time at camp. It was so nice for him to be part of a group that understands. The night before we dropped him off, I told him that every one of the kids that was going to be joining him all had/have seizures, just like him. I can’t even begin to explain the freedom that we could see come into his eyes. He knew he was going somewhere where everyone would accept him for who he is.”
Acceptance and understanding were some of my top priorities for the week at camp. There were a few tonic-clonic seizures that happened and for all of the kids who witnessed other campers having a seizure, it was no big deal at all. When the camper came to, the other kids were there to reassure them they were alright, and helped to make them feel comfortable. One boy asked if any of the other kids had seen his seizure, and you could clearly see the worry and the embarrassment in his eyes. When we told him that they had, and that they hadn’t flinched or said anything mean – just had asked if he was okay, the look of relief that washed over him was both heart-warming and heart-breaking.
Spending time with all of these amazing kids for a whole week was a new experience for me. I am used to spending time with their parents, and seeing the impact that epilepsy can have upon a whole family, but seeing firsthand how these kids are dealing with this seriously misunderstood medical condition, was eye-opening. Kids with epilepsy are beyond resilient. They understand on such a deep level what it means to be set apart from a crowd, and they are so brave and strong to deal with people being negative, ignorant and rude on a daily basis. They showed compassion and love to the other kids around them the whole week through and their joy and happiness was to say the least, unbridled.
To all of the parents who sent their kids to camp this year; thank you for taking a leap of faith and being so brave yourselves. It can’t be easy to let your kids out of your sight, and it probably wasn’t easy to relax the whole week while they were away. To put your trust in complete strangers that your kids would be taken care of as well as you take care of them took a lot of strength.
This year at camp was a smashing success, and I already have big plans for next year. I hope you enjoyed some time for yourselves during that week, and took a moment to stop and smell the roses. Life is already back to being chaotic and busy, and while the lazy days of summer have left us, what won’t leave me is all of those wonderful memories that camp from Camp Fireworks.