Juvenile Arthritis Camp Helps Kids Be Kids

Aimee Simone, Assistant Editor
Published Online: Thursday, July 25, 2013
At summer camps such as Camp Milagros in Northern California, kids with juvenile arthritis get the opportunity to take part in a normal and safe summer camp experience.

Due to their condition, children diagnosed with juvenile arthritis often miss out on many activities other children take for granted. However, at Camp Milagros, one of many camps established throughout the country through the Arthritis Foundation, children with juvenile arthritis are able to take part in a normal and safe summer camp experience.
 
Camp Milagros was started in 2002 by a volunteer board member of the Northern California Chapter of the Arthritis Foundation and is the only camp in Northern California specifically for children aged 8 to 13 with juvenile arthritis and other related rheumatic diseases. Campers stay for 5 days and 4 nights at a time, participating in camp activities in a safe environment under the guidance of volunteer counselors. A typical day includes a range of activities, including swimming, arts and crafts, sports and games, and free time.
 
On the surface, Camp Milagros seems like any other summer camp, but camp staff work behind the scenes to ensure that all campers, regardless of the severity of their condition, stay safe and have fun.
 
“There is a balance to everything at Camp Milagros,” explained Emma Davis, regional manager of juvenile arthritis and advocacy for the Great West Region of the Arthritis Foundation, in a recent interview with Pharmacy Times.
 
The balance between fun and health is constant throughout the day, beginning with a pre-breakfast stretch for all campers. Different activities are available for campers during the day so even those who cannot participate in more physically demanding activities will be able to have fun. Swimming, Davis said, is great for all campers, regardless of disease severity. But even a low-impact activity like swimming requires special safety precautions.
 
“Many of our campers are extremely sun sensitive either due to the disease they have or the medication they are on,” Davis said. “So we have to be sure sunscreen is applied often and that we monitor their sun exposure.”
 
In addition to these accommodations, 5 to 6 pediatric rheumatologists are on staff to dispense medications at mealtimes and to address any other medical issues that arise. To make sure that campers go home healthy, all campers and volunteers are screened for sickness before camp since many campers have weakened immune systems.
 
In addition to balancing fun and safety, the camp also balances fun and learning about arthritis and building self-confidence. The camp holds a session called “Talk with your Docs” on Friday night where campers can ask the medical staff questions they might have about their disease. Campers also talk with their counselors and bunkmates back in the cabins about their arthritis, struggles, and concerns. The goal of these conversations is to foster self-confidence by reminding campers that there are other children experiencing juvenile arthritis and that they are not alone.
 
“One of the things our campers appreciate about camp is that they can take medications in front of others and talk about their arthritis and everyone at camp understands,” Davis said. “If they need to sit out for an activity, it isn't a big deal.”
 
Watching campers become comfortable with themselves and their peers is Davis’ favorite part of camp.
 
“They arrive at camp scared, shy, and nervous, and they go home in tears because they don't want to leave Camp Milagros and all of their new friends,” she said.
 
New friends, increased self-esteem, and a greater sense of independence are some of the camp’s goals. But the ultimate goal is simpler.
 
“Ultimately, we want all of our campers who come to Camp Milagros to just be kids and have fun,” Davis said.
 
For more information on Camp Milagros visit: http://www.arthritis.org/northern-california/event-details/ja-camp-milagros/
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