Where Seriously Ill Children Can Enjoy the Outdoors and Raise A Little Hell
As a mommy blogger who writes about the outdoors, I rarely think about good health as a pre-requisite for the outdoors. The outdoors just is. It’s out there. It’s out there and yet sadly, it’s not accessible to everyone. When I was contacted by SeriousFun Children’s Network to raise awareness about their cause, I was both humbled and inspired by the amazing work they do. Camps where kids with cancer, heart diseases or immunologic disorders can enjoy camp games and campfire night while getting the medical attention they need? Camps where archery, swimming or climbing is for every child even if you’re in a wheelchair or if you need daily blood infusions? Paul Newman, you’re an awesome guy.
More than two decades ago, Paul Newman had a vision: imagine if children living with serious illnesses had the chance to simply be children. To just have fun. So he started a camp where kids could, in his words, “raise a little hell.” You can learn more by watching “Paul’s Vision” PSA featuring Bruce Willis and Julia Roberts. Today, SeriousFun Children’s Network is a growing global community of independently managed and financed camps and programs. I had the opportunity to interview John Read, President and CEO of SeriousFun Children’s Network and former President and CEO of Outward Bound, a non-profit educational organization. He answered a few questions for Frog Mom.
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1. What outdoor activities do you offer at SeriousFun?
Our camps provide all of the activities that a normal camp would: fishing, boating swimming, as well as an array of outdoor games – archery, high and low ropes courses and so on. You name it, our camps provide it.
2. How do you adapt outdoors activities to serious illnesses?
The idea here is to have these activities be as inclusive as possible so camp staff can always say “yes!” For example, swimming pools are designed and temperatures maintained to provide easy access and safety; ropes courses are designed to be accessible to children and adults with a range of mobility issues; activities like archery include special harnesses and equipment so that anyone can do it. The real ‘accommodation’ however is the trained volunteer or staff member close by to help make it happen.
3. Tell us the story of a child who needed to overcome a serious challenge to take part in an outdoors activity and who succeeded.
There are so many, but I’ll choose one from my own experience volunteering for a week at one of our camps. Jason, 12, was late to arrive at camp and we worried that he wouldn’t be able to make it. He was one of several kids during that session dealing with chronic hemophilia requiring daily infusions, and Jason was hospitalized on his way to camp with complications. But Jason arrived a day later with reports from the hospital that his rapid recovery, coupled with his making a real ‘stink’ about missing camp, propelled his release! Jason had a blast that week, including a rocket throwing arm with a football that almost took off my finger.
4. If parents wanted to continue doing outdoors activities outside of camp, what can you recommend in terms of easy fixes or most accessible activities? What resources are available for parents of children with serious illnesses?
There are no easy fixes for parents who want to keep their children safe while simultaneously giving them a normal childhood. The outdoor activities our camps provide are the result of a careful review of the physical and emotional requirements of each activity along with the condition of each illness or adaptive group we serve. And they are conducted under the watchful, if invisible, eye of medical experts. Parents can consult with us or any competent provider of outdoor activities for children and families dealing with serious illness, but should be guided by their doctors.
5. Are there any outdoors activities that children with serious absolutely illness cannot do?
All outdoor activities can be adapted to make them more accessible. How accessible and for whom can only be truly answered with specifics about the nature of the activity and the individual’s condition.
6. How do outdoor activities help sick children?
It’s important to remember that children with illness are children first and no different in terms of their needs and aspirations. Outdoor activities, especially ‘challenge by choice’ activities for kids in groups, build physical strength, social connectedness and appreciation for the natural world. It has been my good fortune to work with children for more than a decade, first at Outward Bound and now SeriousFun, and the evidence to this effect is overwhelming. If there are any differences in respect to kids with serious illness, it is their condition. They often come from a place of even greater isolation and potential stigma and thus benefit from this experience all the more.
Now, for you readers who have seriously ill children in your lives or who care a whole lot about them: how can you help SeriousFun?
SeriousFun camps rely on donations and volunteers to keep up the good work. You can spread the word about SeriousFun by sharing this blog post. You can donate to a particular camp by logging on the camp’s pages. You can volunteer and help the little champions have a great time at camp. Hey, you can also raise funds by joining or creating endurance events.
Remember. It’s all about the kids. Help them be kids!
SeriousFun Children’s Network: http://www.seriousfunnetwork.org