Chemotherapy may have saved my life, but the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp saved my spirit. I was a very angry eight year-old when my mother brought me to camp for the first time. She jokes that when she picked me up it was like picking up a different kid. The Hole in the Wall is like no other camp on the planet. It lets children who have all kinds of medical difficulties live, play, and celebrate just like normal kids. At camp, each child has a different story but they are all in the same boat. We laughed at doctor jokes, we climbed the rock tower, and we camped out despite our medical regimes. There is so much love in one place, its almost impossible to stay angry. That what makes the Hole in the Wall the most amazing place on earth.
Even though i missed my parents when they left me at the beginning, my counselors really cheered me up and I knew that camp definitely the place for me. We do so many activities with our cabin in the daytime we can go..... horse back riding, do archery, make arts and crafts, go to the wood shop, go swimming, do theater acting, go to sports and rec, go fishing, go into the treehouse, and possibly play tennis or to do mini golfing I feel like camp is part of my family now that I have experienced camp. And it was an extraordinary experience of a lifetime. thats how much I love camp!!!!!!!!
I am a parent of two campers, a cancer survivor and a sibling camper. When my son was diagnosed with cancer our who family went into overdrive and began a journey down a road no family should travel. Our family first went to HITWGC for a Family Weekend, and it was the first time we were able to spend time with people "who just get it". Once my children attended camp we saw a huge weight lifted...they finally felt like they had a place to belong. The kids were so happy to spend time with people who cared and understood. My kids are addicted to HITWGC, they would live there if it was allowed. Thank you camp for giving my family a new start.
I am actually both a former volunteer (10 summers and 14 total years, counting off-season programming) and now a camper parent. Needless to say, my love of camp runs both deep and broad. Others have said many of the things that I might have said--about how camp changes kids' lives, about the excellent medical staff, about how well maintained the beautiful facility is and about how thoughtful and intentional the programming for children is. All I can add is this. I took my five year old to camp this weekend. It had been a bad day in kindergarten. She spent the weekend jumping out of her skin with joy. On Monday morning, she told the parent of one of her classmates that she'd been at camp, and the parent asked her what kind of camp it was. Her answer, "the kind of camp where you're a rock star." And that's the crux of what camp is: the kind of place where after just two days, you're a rock star!
It had been a long and difficult year of chemotherapy for my seven year old. Then we learned about the Hole in the Wall Gang camp. It turned out to be everything she needed - a place filled with warmth, music, smiles, evenings by the bonfire, friendship, songs, laughter, happiness and love!!! Up until this day my daughter wears her ID bracelet (which used to be purple but now is all faded). She says that means her camp is always near. Her memories of this amazing time do not fade, and she is waiting for the next summer to go back to that wonderful place where children who had to deal with serious illnesses, pain and suffering become happy again! A huge thank you to all those who make it possible!
For the past 14 years The Hole in the Wall Gang camp has been a vital part of my life. As a camper I would live for the one week to go to the place where I could be my complete and total self without judgment. The counselors were not only my caretakers for the week but my friends who never showed lack of interest in me. It did not take me long to figure out that I wanted to be a staff member for camp. In my mind it was a no brainer decision to become one of the coolest people on the face of the planet. At least this was my view of all the counselors at camp. Making the transition from camper to counselor was everything I hoped for and more. I finally had the opportunity to bring the same joy which I experienced into hundreds of campers’ lives. I have also been able to develop amazing lifelong relationships with my fellow staff members. I feel so honored to be able to work with such loving, kind and selfless people summer after summer. One of my favorite things about being a counselor who was once a camper is having a deeper insight on some of the everyday struggles a young boy with Sickle Cell disease may have undergone. Three years have passed since my first year as a counselor and I am still in awe of the mission we are able to accomplish every summer. I can’t wait to complete my journey as a counselor this upcoming summer and hopefully make it nothing short of legendary for the campers of 2011.
My daughter Vanessa Gonzalez was a camper at The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp from 1999-2003. This marvelous, miraculous camp changed her attitude about her illness completely. It is a wonderful place, like no other on this earth. From the 1st moment you arrive and are welcomed by the wonderful staff and counselors, to the last day when no one wants to go home, the children are treated like kings and queens. I, myself, spent a couple of weekends at the camp on parent retreats and also as a volunteer on work weekends. Everyone is wonderful, the place is magical, it makes you feel like it's the closest place to heaven. I cried with joy each time I was able to visit camp because I did not want to go back home. I love how it changed my daughter and how she became more open about her disease and more willing to help other people in her situation by just telling them her experiences and helping them through theirs. Everyone at camp is an angel and we miss you truly.
I have been a volunteer cabin couselor at Hole In The Wall Gang Camp for 8 summers now, and have been consistently impressed and amazed by the quality of the program and the permanent staff. But the best part - the part that keeps me excited and coming back - is the impact this wonderful program and these wonderful people have on the Campers and their families. I've been priviledged to see firsthand the healing and restorative effect of being in a place where safety, respect and love are not just nice words but a real way of life. And playing a tiny part in that, year by year has made me a better person, enabled me to put aside my own problems, my own struggle with diabetes, multiple surgeries and personal tragedy and have a wonderful shared experience with these children who have helped me as much (or more) than I have ever helped them. Working up at Camp has become a high point of my year and something I look forward to all year long.
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.
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!
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?”
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.
I can still recall vividly arriving for the first time to the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp. Counselor were cheering. The sun was shining. Everyone was smiling. And little did I realize that my life was about to be changed forever. I have been involved with the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp for the past twenty years. I was a camper. I have volunteered as a counselor. I’ve played a role in fundraising. And I can say that the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp is truly a magical place. There is a large population of children out there who can neither go to “traditional” summer camps nor simply spend the summer “playing.” For those children, the Hole in the Wall Gang camp offers a unique respite. As a camper, I fished; I canoed; I made beads; I put on plays; I climbed a rock wall; I wrote poetry; and I did all of that in a supportive, safe, respectful, and loving environment. These experiences were, of course, great fun. But they were also so much more. They offered a sense of normalcy. I too have ridden horses. I too know how to canoe. I too have a drawer full of arts and crafts projects. While, perhaps for some children, these are just summer distractions, they gave, to me, a sense of being “normal.” As a child, I spent much of my time around doctors or hospitals. And during much of my remaining time, I was around those who had never had such experiences, a constant reminder that I was “different.” But for a short time each Summer, I enjoyed what everyone else seemed to take for granted. My time at camp was special for yet another reason as well: the many wonderful people that I met there. I had a chance to meet other kids with similar life experiences and see that I was not alone. I also met a series of mentors, young people who had left their colleges or medical schools or jobs to come offer their time to the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp. I look back upon my time as a camper and realize that I simply cannot imagine what life would have been like without camp. Can you imagine what your life would be like if you had grown up in a different country or been born to different parents? Consider that for a moment. There are some counterfactuals that just can’t be imagined. For me, that is life without the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp. And my experience as a camper was not unique. Thousands of children go through the rustic wood gate at the front of the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp and are forever changed for having done so. Perhaps even more amazing (and almost as transformative) as my time as a camper has been my time as a volunteer. Each time I step foot on camp or help at a camp event, I am struck by the dedication and energy of those who pour their hearts into running the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp. Try to imagine what is required in taking care of a single child with an illness or disability. Now imagine what is involved in caring for thousands of them, while giving them a normal summer camp experience, and doing it in such a way that never feels intrusive but is always carefully supervised. Each and every time I meet other counselors, I’m always amazed by how much they can pour into that endeavor. Passion, professionalism, and skill are a rare combination, but one that I have consistently observed in the camp staff and administration. A camp counselor once remarked to me that everyone gets more out of the Hole in the Wall Gang camp than they put in. In my seven-year-old wisdom, I questioned how such a feat was possible: where did it all come from? Twenty years later, I still do not know the answer to that question. But I do know that it is the miracle of the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp.