Yesterday, I had the privilege of attending one of the Arthritis Foundation’s juvenile arthritis (JA) summer camps, one of some 50 JA camps across the country. This experience gave me the opportunity to see firsthand the positive impact our programs are having on kids. Upon arrival at Camp M.A.S.H. (“Make Arthritis Stop Hurting”) in Mobile, Ala., my first observation was how absolutely beautiful the camp is and what an unbelievably special facility they have created.
I arrived around noon and the kids were enjoying their lunch. After lunch, while the kids went back to their cabins for quiet time, I took a tour of the incredible facilities around the camp. I was impressed with the variety of fun activity stations available for the kids, featuring traditional summer camping activities such as swimming, fishing, rowing, arts and crafts, and skeet shooting, to name a few, plus an accessible rope challenge course that allows the kids to experience the outdoors to the fullest. The camp focuses on what kids with arthritis can do, not what they can’t do.
The greatest thing I observed at the camp was the way all of these kids come together and support, encourage and learn from each other. It is truly wonderful being able to experience the joys of summer and the outdoors with these imaginative and creative kids.
There are approximately 100 kids of varying ages attending. Some of the kids who have been coming to the camp for years have returned as young adults in the role of junior camp counselors. In particular, a young man named Grant spoke after lunch about when he first came to camp some years ago. At that time, he was very shy and hesitant to speak in front of a group.
Now he returns year after year and gives back to the camp that helped him develop independence and build his self-confidence. The camp owner, Davis Pilot, who has arthritis himself, has a very heartwarming story about how he came to own the camp. This endeavor is clearly a family affair involving the commitment and dedication of the entire family, including the grandmother, sons-in-law, wife, children and lots of friends lending a hand. Over the years, the family has continued to expand the camp and add special features each year to make this a fun and enjoyable experience for the kids.