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February 11, 2010

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February 11, 2010

Overall it is an incredible organization. Truly, it is about these critically ill children getting to be 'kids at camp'.

The Great!

I've personally experienced the results of this organization in...

I've seen a child smile who, according to his year round nursing staff, NEVER usually smiles.

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The kinds of staff and volunteers that I met were...

friendly.

How frequently have you been involved with the organization?

About once a year

When was your last experience with this nonprofit?

2009

February 7, 2010

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February 7, 2010

I believe there are few if any organizations with a mission as important as that of The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp. Nothing is more unfair than a child having to deal with a serious illness rather than the usual joys of childhood, and Hole in the Wall combats this injustice by giving kids a week as a camper when they can soak up enough sun, laughter, dancing, and love to last them for the rest of the year. And because many families are already burdened by health care expenses, every camper attends Camp for free. Being a camper at the Hole in the Wall made me change my perspective on my own disease - it was no longer something that made me different from my friends but instead something that made me unique. When I was lucky enough to return for several summers as a cabin counselor, I realized that my passion is life is caring for others, and I switched career paths and entered medical school. What an effect this 300 acre camp, tucked away in the northeast woods of Connecticut, has had on my life! But the amazing part is that there are over a thousand stories created every summer just like mine, where campers living with cancer, HIV, sickle cell, hemophilia and other serious diseases have their lives altered forever. Please help The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp help those who deserve it most.

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What I've enjoyed the most about my experience with this nonprofit is...

despite being one of the best camps in the country The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp continuously strives to improve its programming, safety and medical care.

How frequently have you been involved with the organization?

About once a year

When was your last experience with this nonprofit?

2009

December 10, 2009

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December 10, 2009

I arrived at The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp in the summer of 1994 as a volunteer counselor. As with so many other people who came to know this camp, it changed my life entirely. The organization has given me far more than I’ve been able to offer it in my years of work there. The Camp defies easy description. Volunteers return year after year because the place offers you the chance to work long, intense hours around an intelligent, funny, big-hearted staff, and children who are often far wiser than anyone around them. Volunteers and staff members pour their hearts into the task: giving campers a packed week of play and fellowship, free of the social and physical constraints they face back home. As cabin counselors, we would routinely stay up past midnight to plan the next day’s activities and strategize about how to maximize the experience; how to make this one day as great as it could possibly be for our campers. At daybreak we’d lock arms with them and venture into those activities, building deep friendships in whispers as we waited for a fish to bite, or in songs shouted in the dining hall, or in silence around a candle at the close of the day. At the end of the week, those children are members of Camp’s family – a status that guarantees a lifetime of support from anyone affiliated with the place. The support extends to siblings and parents as well. They rely often on that support, and we are the better for it. For many who’ve stood in a joyful swarm of Hole in the Wall campers, we have been transformed into people who more fully understand what it means to love those around us, while serving a purpose that is far greater than whatever material goals we might have. Paul Newman somehow knew there would be magic in such a place. It’s difficult to believe that even he knew just how much magic there would be.

The Great!

I've personally experienced the results of this organization in...

the faces of campers and their family members at the end of a session, knowing that they've come to know one of the few truly magical places on earth.

Ways to make it better...

If I had to make changes to this organization, I would...

Create a system that would allow it to serve campers and their families on every single day of the year.

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What I've enjoyed the most about my experience with this nonprofit is...

the fact that no matter what the organization is involved in, it consistently achieves a standard of excellence. There is no compromise here.

The kinds of staff and volunteers that I met were...

First rate, across the board.

If this organization had 10 million bucks, it could...

Profoundly change the lives of a huge number of people.

Ways to make it better...

It were longer.

In my opinion, the biggest challenges facing this organization are...

The ever-present challenge of raising awareness and funds to keep this amazing place operating at its current level of excellence.

One thing I'd also say is that...

Everyone should be fortunate enough to spend time around this organization.

How frequently have you been involved with the organization?

About every six months

When was your last experience with this nonprofit?

2009

December 8, 2009

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December 8, 2009

I came to Hole in the Wall for the first time 8 years ago. I volunteer in the cabins and take care of the kids 24/7. I think about how much trust parents would need to go against their protective instincts and leave their child who has a life-threatening diagnosis out of their sight and in our charge, in the woods and far from home. The parents know how valuable it is. Ask the parents about the Hole in the Wall organization. They trust this organization with their most valuable presence – their family. Everything the Hole in the Wall does upholds that responsibility and trust. The Hole in the Wall organization defines the standard that other non-profits aspire to. They require the highest level of performance from staff, volunteers and from themselves, because the kids deserve it. The organization does absolutely everything at the highest level of integrity, whether it is construction of a tree house, injury prevention, a BBQ, groundskeeping, facility maintenance, medical services or safety. What Hole in the Wall values is children, who will never know how much diligence it takes to do things right, and they shouldn’t. They are, after all, kids. The parents’ decision to send their child is met by the staff with diligence and focus on the well-being and happiness of the camper. Parents benefit from a week of relief. Siblings benefit from getting the undivided attention of their parents, and may even be lucky enough to attend as a sibling camper during the last session, strengthening bonds between brothers and sisters. These children supported by the work of the Hole the Wall organization were dealt an absolutely terrible hand of cards and face things that no child should have to face. The camp gives them the opportunity to be kids again, which medicine can sometimes forget to stress. At camp, the devastating effects of disease can cease to exist because children are not identified by their diagnosis, but by their name instead. The staff sees the child and not the disease. So simple. The love and support of parents is supplemented by a network of counselors and staff who constantly stress the Hole in the Wall message of “Yes, you can!” Campers blossom in a week, often in a day, and when they see this happen in other campers, they realize they aren’t alone in their battle against disease. Each summer, I find a way to get back to CT and spend two weeks in the presence of their greatness. This organization isn’t about illness, it isn’t about doctors visits or status symbols or celebrity. It is about the children, that they may see and be seen, be acknowledged and celebrated. This principle is in everything- in the food, at the archery range, at the fishing dock, in every single thing. Hole in the Wall celebrates the glory and life of the children. Newman’s kindness is everywhere on camp- in the dining hall, in the rafters of the theatre, at the campfire. The kids and staff understand that presence. Each week I am there, I leave exhausted, in the best way possible. I give all I can to them, and they deserve that. This place always helps me to re-focus and know again what is important in this life. For that, I thank Hole in the Wall not for what they do not for the children, but for what they do for me. The only bad thing about this camp is that as a camper, you have to have a life-threatening illness to go there. There are no ordinary days at Hole in the Wall- never have been, never will be. Every day is cherished. If I had my way, I would never leave there. I would stay and do work with this level of meaning forever. I will be back this summer, and will keep coming back until they don’t need me to wait for the thousands of children that aren’t able to attend due to the overwhelming need.

Photos

The Great!

I've personally experienced the results of this organization in...

watching Hole in the Wall help children grow, see how they support families, and witness the strengthening of bonds between siblings.

Ways to make it better...

If I had to make changes to this organization, I would...

Add a big giant water slide to the pool and lengthen the summer season!!

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What I've enjoyed the most about my experience with this nonprofit is...

The absolute singular focus on doing what is right for the population they serve- children from all walks of life with life-threatening diseases and their families. Unparalleled attention in what is important.

The kinds of staff and volunteers that I met were...

people who demonstrate the best that is within us. They are the highest quality, do-the-right-thing, positive people there are, who come to Hole in the Wall for all the right reasons. They come from everywhere, united in their support of the children.

If this organization had 10 million bucks, it could...

Help the thousands and thousands of kids who won't get to go because there are just too many of them and not enough Hole in the Wall camps.

Ways to make it better...

there was a hot tub and massage therapist on staff!

In my opinion, the biggest challenges facing this organization are...

keeping up with the demand for their services.

One thing I'd also say is that...

to know this place, you must explore this place. It is every bit as good as they say. Volunteer for a week, meet the parents, and see what happens when kids with life threatening diseases are given this opportunity.

How frequently have you been involved with the organization?

One time

When was your last experience with this nonprofit?

2009

December 2, 2009

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December 2, 2009

I was a full summer counselor at the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp for six summers. I had a front row seat to the lives of so many wonderful kids who were dealt such unimaginable plights. The campers at Hole in the Wall Gang Camp lived their lives to return to camp for weekend reunions and summer sessions. It gave them a bright source of hope in their most difficult of times. And the power that had on the child resonated throughout their families. A fact that is only magnified by the fact that Hole in the Wall extends programming to siblings and parents. The way the camp trains their staff is superb. Beyond the obvious medical concerns to look out for, we were given the tools needed to treat everything from home sickness to unruly behavior in such a way that was at the utmost respect to the camper. If I had to sum up my camp experience with one story, it would be the following. I was sitting on the ball field with campers on break from some goofy Sports and Rec activity that involved safety cones, hula hoops, and most certainly water guns. One of my 14 year old campers looked at me and said, "You know why I love it here? Because when you talk to me, I don't feel like Greg with cancer, I just feel like Greg."

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The kinds of staff and volunteers that I met were...

exceptionally compassionate, creative and qualified individuals.

How frequently have you been involved with the organization?

About once a year

When was your last experience with this nonprofit?

2009

November 21, 2009

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November 21, 2009

I’m a mom. Not a soccer mom. Not a hockey mom. I’m a cancer mom. The day our son, Aaron, was diagnosed; we entered world of chemotherapy, surgeries, radiation, seemingly endless doctors’ visits and hospital stays. Most of that first year was spent in the hospital, sharing a 9x9 room with Mom and Dad. For a kid who had just started high school, it was difficult to lose his hard fought independence. His body took a hit, but his spirit took a hit too. When his docs recommended The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, we had to think it through. They wanted us to send our bald, fragile, vulnerable son out to the woods - for a week - alone. But, he was not alone. Surrounded by loving, giving counselors, other kids going through the same kind of rough times and a full medical staff, camp gave him a chance to heal his spirit. He enjoyed woodshop, movies and swimming. He was too weak to climb the rock wall tower, but The Hole in the Wall Gang had the answer: “cabin lift”. His cabin-mates grabbed a hold of the rope and lifted Aaron up to the top. From that perch, he looked down and saw that he was not alone. He would never be alone. As part of The Hole in the Wall Gang, he has friends who understand what it is like to fight for your life. The Hole in the Wall Gang brings together people who know how to appreciate little things - like a well-made s’more ‘round the campfire. This summer, he was back at camp. At the rock wall tower, he was the one helping pull others to the top.

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The kinds of staff and volunteers that I met were...

the kind of people who remember your name the first time you meet them. The staff and volunteers of The Hole in the Wall help families during the most difficult times by remembering that laughter is universal and love has no limits.

How frequently have you been involved with the organization?

About every month

When was your last experience with this nonprofit?

2009

November 17, 2009

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November 17, 2009

I attended The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp as a camper and later as a volunteer counselor. I have zero hesitation stating that camp changed my life and made me who I am today. I was born with a severe bleeding disorder, hemophilia. My body also developed an inhibitor, which means my body rejected the only medicine available to treat this disease. As a result, I quickly developed crippling joints with constant bleeding into my joints causing severe chronic pain. On top of this, at the age of 12, I also learned that I contracted AIDS and Hepatitis C from my medication to treat my hemophilia. I was told I had about 1 year to live. All of this led to depression and low self-worth. It was the next summer that I learned of the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp. For years I kept to myself and became extremely shy. Not only did I feel I wasn’t worth much, but I was scared to death to let anyone into my life in fear they would discover my HIV status. So it took me about a day at camp to really come out of my shell, but when I did, it was like discovering a whole new world! Before camp I always heard about how awful people were (usually in reference to the treatment of people with AIDS). It wasn’t until I was at camp when realized…there are good people in this world, and more importantly, it was ok to be myself. For that one week at camp, I didn’t have to pretend I was someone I wasn’t. I didn’t have hid from people in fear of them getting to know me. I could be me…100% ME! While the activities were great, it really is the people, campers and counselors, which make this the best organization in the world. I went from feeling like a misfit to feeling like I belong somewhere. I remember sitting up all night with my whole cabin cracking jokes, sharing stories about friends that we’ve lost, to making farting noises, to crying, to sharing tips on the best ways to take that gross tasting medicine…there isn’t anywhere else that this happens. For the first time, I found myself. It was no longer “poor me”, it was “wouldn’t it be cool if I didn’t let my diseases define me” or “I now know I can do amazing things DESPITE my diseases.” Camp gave me the strength and confidence to get out of my room and actually live my life, graduate high school, be the first in my family to graduate college, intern for MTV, live on my own in L.A. and N.Y.C., backpack Europe, and now have a career, married to the woman of my dreams and actually consider starting our own family. All thanks to the life that camp encouraged me to have!

The Great!

I've personally experienced the results of this organization in...

myself. This organization molded me to be productive, caring, and an involved member of my community.

Ways to make it better...

If I had to make changes to this organization, I would...

More feedback...

What I've enjoyed the most about my experience with this nonprofit is...

the people and the supportive nature of the organization.

The kinds of staff and volunteers that I met were...

thee most amazing group of individuals I have ever met!

If this organization had 10 million bucks, it could...

reach more children and change more lives.

Ways to make it better...

I could have stayed forever.

One thing I'd also say is that...

everyone, especially these kids, need to know they are worth it...they need to see the beauty in the world...they need to know why life is worth fighting for. The Hole in the Wall gives all that.

How frequently have you been involved with the organization?

About once a year

When was your last experience with this nonprofit?

2009

September 15, 2009

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September 15, 2009

I have had the honor and pleasure to serve The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp as both a former full time staff member and a camp volunteer. The mission of Camp resonated with me from the very beginning and I considered myself lucky to serve our families. By being apart of the development team in the Camp’s fundraising office in New Haven, I was able to not only work closely with our dedicated donors but I also worked with our campers, their families and our volunteers. Everyone involved; donors, campers, parents and volunteers alike, all worked towards keeping Mr. Newman’s vision alive, letting sick children “raise a little hell” and find some comfort with one another. And Camp does just that. From the second a camper and their family enter the Camp grounds, with clowns, bubbles, music and cheering counselors to welcome them…to the intimate camp fires and cabin chats…to the unique opportunity to take hot air balloon rides, the experience is unlike any other. The feeling of excitement and the power of healing are infections and felt by all who enter the front gate. My job as the Director of Special Events was to translate this feeling to our donors in the hope that they would help support our mission. Meeting donors, young and old, and introducing them to Camp was an honor! It’s widely known that once you experience the power of Camp you are in the family for life. I personally saw many donors make this connection and continue to not only give to Camp, but to give the gift of Camp to their entire extended family by keeping everyone involved. As a volunteer I was able to spend time with campers and their families and see first hand how far a little love and silliness can go. Helping children forget their worries and remind them that they are just kids was the most fun I’d had in years and I look forward to going back every summer. I will always cherish my work with Camp and feel very blessed to be apart of their family!

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What I've enjoyed the most about my experience with this nonprofit is...

how everyone on staff, from programming to fundraising to volunteering, all have the same mission, to give our campers an experience of a lifetime.

How frequently have you been involved with the organization?

About every week

When was your last experience with this nonprofit?

2009

September 8, 2009

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September 8, 2009

Our son is a former camper who first attended The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp in 1989 at age 9 under active treatment for leukemia. After several years as a camper, he became a counselor and worked at Camp into his college years. He continues to visit Camp and volunteer for special events. As an indebted parent, I began my volunteer service to the Camp almost 20 years ago. I will always remain obligated to the Camp for what it has provided to our son, our family, and now so many dear friends. Paul Newman’s extraordinary and perhaps impossible vision sprang to life in the summer of 1988. The brilliance of the design resulted in its immediate success. It has made an extraordinary impact on all those it has touched. The Camp was conceived from a deep commitment to serve a special population of very seriously ill children in a unique environment backed by a commitment to offer the experience of a life time to kids with no other possible options for a camp experience – and at no cost to their families. Since 1988, the commitment of the talented staff has taken the concept to new and higher dimensions and has delivered life-changing experiences to thousands of children. It is not possible to fully describe what the Camp has and continues to offer to these kids, but it is certainly magic. When your child is diagnosed with a life-threatening disease, your world as a parent changes. Perhaps the most striking change is that you witness a sudden loss of your son’s or daughter’s “childhood”. Explaining the impact of camp on these kids and families requires an appreciation for this loss. Camp, through its total commitment to these kids, has found a way to do nothing less than consistently “restore” the childhood so often lost to their disease. Fears are consoled, talents are celebrated, friendships are fostered, confidences are engendered, choices are constantly offered, respect and love are offered non-stop, and the fun simply flows through a deep, safe and totally natural vein that is, in fact, the essence of the Camp. I have never witnessed anything that even remotely resembles this phenomenon. The success of the Camp is immeasurable. It has provided unique experiences to thousands of kids from all backgrounds, bound together as members of the “Hole in the Wall Gang”. Every child, family and caregiver is enabled to new and higher levels of understanding of their situation and refreshed in their ability to manage their challenges. It is a testament to the founders that the life lessons earned at Camp by all who spend even the shortest time there are touched by a life-altering experience that can and should be applied everywhere. From a personal perspective, as well as an understanding of my fellow parents, the Camp experience has allowed us to reach a new understanding of our children, the real values in life, and provided new perspectives and appreciation for the courage and generosity of others of all ages. Our son’s experience has and continues to have an indelible influence on him in his life and work as a medical doctor. The continued preservation and expansion of the Camp spirit is of such importance that I cannot overstate it. One of my son’s best Camp buddies once said: “Why can’t the whole world be like Camp?”

The Great!

I've personally experienced the results of this organization in...

the life-altering experiences of our son, his friends and other parents.

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What I've enjoyed the most about my experience with this nonprofit is...

witnessing the very best qualities of the human spirit.

The kinds of staff and volunteers that I met were...

compassionate, dedicated, ultra-high energy, and above all, consistent givers of unconditional love to some very seriously ill kids.

If this organization had 10 million bucks, it could...

extend its truly remarkable and unparalleled ability to extend the experience of a life time to more kids, in more locations, with more diagnoses.

How frequently have you been involved with the organization?

About every six months

When was your last experience with this nonprofit?

2009

April 7, 2009

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April 7, 2009

I first arrived at The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp in 1992 at age 12, when I was deep into treatment for osteosarcoma bone cancer. I arrived bald, on crutches, and very apprehensive. I had been in and out of the hospital for the prior 9 months and had barely been out of my parents’ sight since my diagnosis. We nearly missed the unmarked and hidden driveway tucked into the beautiful woods. As we drove between two large boulders, up a long driveway, and past a sparkling pond, I became more and more nervous. Suddenly, a man in a 4-foot tall cowboy hat and a woman dressed as a clown came into view. They were waving wildly and welcoming us into the parking lot. As soon as we opened the doors and they learned my name, they acted as though they had been specifically waiting just for me. There was cheering, and hugging, and singing, and dancing. I felt incredibly special and incredibly normal at the same time. This feeling is one of the most remarkable gifts that camp provides. I spent four years as a camper at The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, and one year as a Leader in Training (junior counselor). Since then I have worked there for three summers and have volunteered as a counselor and in the infirmary. Over these years of privileged involvement I’ve tried to figure out how Camp creates the magical environment of love and acceptance that makes it so unique. It’s still hard for me to describe to people who have not been fortunate enough to visit. The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp is more than just a summer camp for children with cancer and blood diseases. Camp finds people at the most vulnerable points of their lives- children undergoing invasive and isolating therapy for devastating illnesses, parents facing the most terrifying possibilities imaginable, siblings trying to keep the family stable throughout the struggle- and provides a respite. It is a place where you don’t have to explain your fears and mixed emotions. Where scars are battle wounds to be worn proudly. Where bald heads, crutches, Port-a-Caths, and pillboxes are common accessories. Where tree houses have wheelchair ramps and IV pumps run unnoticed next to bunk beds. By normalizing all of these things, Camp allows children and families in crisis to focus on the simple joys of summer camp. The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp provides an exceptional camp experience to children with special needs. Then they go beyond this mission and actually show campers and staff how to make the world a better place. There is a conscious culture of kindness that permeates the environment. The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp subtly teaches important lessons about unconditional acceptance, listening, and reserving judgment. And they encourage people to take theses lessons and share them with the outside world after they leave. I for one am a better person for having been involved in The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp and I firmly believe that the world is a better place due to its work.

The Great!

I've personally experienced the results of this organization in...

my own self confidence and the way I view my experience with illness. I look back on my bone cancer as a very challenging time, but one that also gave me many new opportunities and a unique understanding of other people. The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp helped to shape that perspective.

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What I've enjoyed the most about my experience with this nonprofit is...

the large community of people who love and believe so firmly in the mission.

The kinds of staff and volunteers that I met were...

energetic, thoughtful, fun-loving, compassionate people.

If this organization had 10 million bucks, it could...

provide these badly needed services to more families and children throughout the year.

When was your last experience with this nonprofit?

2008

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