My Time with North Star Reach

Discussion in 'General Chat' started by BigHussy, Jan 7, 2020.

  1. BigHussy

    BigHussy Tenacious Gamer Tenacious Gamer

    Jun 25, 2018
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    Hi Gamers,

    I wanted to talk a little bit about the charity that is near and dear to my heart and why I am very excited to give to this camp.

    One Summer I volunteered as a Counselor for North Star Reach and it was absolutely amazing. North Star Reach is a camp for children with serious illnesses. This camp provides the opportunity for families to let their children enjoy camp as any child would be able to. It is located in Pinckney, Michigan and sits on a beautiful lake. I can't tell you how blown away I was to see this camp in real life.

    After going through several interviews and sending in my medical history, it was a long few weeks before I was sent in for training on working with the kids. I was very excited for the Mooseness (that camp magic feeling) but also nervous because it had been a few years since I had worked with kids. You know, that fear that as you get older the more you feel like you're out of touch with the youths. So when I stepped into camp, I was astonished at how much is offered to these kids, it truly is remarkable. The entire camp is wheelchair accessible, they have a heated pool so children with temperature restrictions can swim for the first time (and yes, the pool is also wheelchair accessible because every child should be able to swim), there is a medical staff that stays on site for any child who may need medical attention and help with their medications, and everything in this camp is absolutely free to parents and their children. And that isn't even scratching the surface.

    Training was wonderful, I met people from all over the country and learned some new techniques on working with kids. It was all free, we got to see the entire camp, and we stayed in the cabins so we would know what the campers were experiencing. I gotta tell you, this place is amazing. Not just because they had a full wheelchair accessible tree house, but because the people who run the camp actually care about these kids and want their Counselors to be inspired about giving these campers the best week at camp EVER! It's contagious, and it makes your heart feel full.

    There were some scary parts to training, like, what on Earth do I do for a camper having a medical emergency? And you know what, they trained me really well. One of my campers actually did end up having a HUGE pain issue in the middle of the week and I was prepared and got them to the medical center. However, it did not prepare me emotionally for how heartbreaking it is to see a child in that much pain. She was okay and got back to activities the next day, but that will always haunt me. I felt so helpless, but they have a special bonfire for Counselors to talk about these things, and I definitely wasn't alone. And it actually helped knowing I wasn't alone. Camp. It's magical for campers and Counselors alike.

    Anyway, camp.

    How this works is by hosting weeks, there are 6 weeks of camp each Summer. And a few weeks in the Fall where whole families can come enjoy camp for a weekend and join in on the Mooseness.
    There is:
    Transplant Camp
    Solstice Camp (This is for campers who are now 16 and 17 and are phasing out of camp and learning to be adults)
    Cardioloy Camp
    Epilepsy Camp
    Sickle Cell/Hematology/Pain Management Camp
    And finally, Sibling Camp (This is for the brothers and sisters for the campers, so they can connect and enjoy the Mooseness)

    When I finally finished training I had chosen Sickle Cell Camp. For those of you who do not know, sickle cell anemia is a blood disease in which the red blood cells become rigid and sticky to the point where they turn from a nice round shape to a sickle shape (or crescent moon shape) and, unfortunately, become more likely to cause blockages in the blood vessels. This causes block of blood flow and oxygen to the body, and also causes extreme amounts of pain for some. This also means they are restricted temperature-wise. These campers cannot get too cold, or it slows down their blood flow and causes serious pain, they also cannot get too hot because it could lead to early dehydration which also causes their blood cells to shrink and start the pain. Usually these campers would not be able to go to camp for fear of a rainy day when they would be forced to stay inside, or too hot of a day where they wouldn't be able to participate in the activities. It's pretty rare, there are fewer than 200,000 cases in the US a year.

    Some of my campers had never met another person with this condition, it was mind blowing for them. They got to connect with other campers, share stories, understand that they weren't alone, and marvel that they could experience life and the world just like anyone else can. And I got to be part of that experience.

    Some of the experiences included archery, but to be honest the girls didn't enjoy that as much. A group of 14 year old girls, 'nuff said. However, surprisingly, they loved going fishing. We were safely on the dock, and most of them screamed to high heavens when they actually caught a fish, but one girl actually faced her fears and wormed her own hook. I was quite proud. They were all VERY proud and excited to brag to the boys camp that they had actually caught more fish than the boys. Again, it sounds tame, but these girls had never fished a day in their life. Actually, they had never seen a fish in real life before. They've never seen a wild turkey either which is why they screamed at the top of their lungs after fishing and ran back to the camp screaming there was a dinosaur in the woods (a moment I will cherish forever). They also got to row a canoe and they had the time of their life racing the canoes across the lake for an afternoon.

    There were some tough parts of camp, they still have a condition that can cause them extreme bouts of pain. It can get especially bad at night because the temperature drops. There were a few nights when the Counselors from every cabin in the camp (there are 12 cabins and each are filled with 5-12 kids) were running down to the medical building and the food hall to use the microwaves. Each cabin had roughly 4-8 microwaveable hot packs to help campers manage pain. Hot packs can cause blood vessels to expand, letting blood flow through and ease pain. But with 8 girls and 4 hot packs, it can be very challenging. Also, in the entire camp there were 4 microwaves. For 12 cabins it became shifts of people running back and forth (which was quite a work out since the cabins are all uphill), standing in line, and making runs for other cabins who were having a hard time with the much younger campers who were in the 5-6 year old range. Children couldn't sleep because of the pain, Counselors definitely didn't sleep because we had to be vigilant for nurses making runs in the middle of the night to administer medications while also monitoring for dehydration. It was rough. I slept maybe 2-3 hours a night that week.

    But it wasn't all bad, there are also amazing parts of camp.

    One of the most memorable experiences was when they all got to swim for the very first time. Most of them were terrified, they had never been in so much water. Swimming can be dangerous for anyone with their condition because any severe temperature changes can be painful and even lead to damage to major organs and nerves in the body due to the chronic deprivation of oxygen-rich blood. This was quite a scary moment for them. So a heated pool is a must. They LOVED it. None of them knew how to swim, but they loved wading around in the shallow end and throwing beach balls to each other. They had tons of questions about what it was like to swim in a lake and what it was like to dive. Two girls even asked me to teach them how to swim. I had never taught anyone to swim before, but they really wanted to pass the swim test to go to the deep side of the pool. So every day for that week I worked with them to doggy paddle and hold their breath. One girl slowly became way less interested in swimming and really just wanted to learn how to float. She was obsessed. And at the end of the week, one girl passed her swim test and spent the last day at the Hula Pool Party in the deep end, living it up. I may have cried a little, its okay, she did too. And the girl who wanted to float finally did it. She bragged to pretty much every single person in the camp after that.

    And my other most memorable moment was the last bonfire with the girls. I introduced the yarn game to them that night. The yarn game is where everyone sits in a circle, one person gets to start with a ball of yarn and say something they loved about camp. Then they toss the yarn to anyone in the group and that person can say what they loved, and so on. Once everyone has had a turn you tied was pieces you're connected to around your wrist to make a bracelet to remind you of your experiences. All the girls said the best part of camp was the Counselors. It was touching. The close second was the swimming pool. I was still very touched.

    The girls cried, the Counselors cried, I cried, the girls screamed cause they thought there was a bug in the cabin, we had s'mores, it was a great time.

    As silly as it may sound, this camp actually makes a huge impact on these kids. This is something that they need in their lives, it creates an environment where they can feel unstoppable and understand that anything is possible for them, and that it shouldn't end at camp.

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    Which is why I am very excited to donate to this camp. I believe they have a microwave for every cabin now since I volunteered, which is great. But there is a lot of stuff they still need. They run the camp on donations, so this is everything to them, and every little bit counts.

    Please, if you haven't donated yet, please do. It would really mean the world to the campers and to me.

    Kimmz, Mishi, TartFlavor and 4 others like this.
  2. LoanWolf

    LoanWolf Rangers > Berzerkers Honored Mythic Gamer Legendary Gamer Ashes of Creation Chapter Lead WoW: Classic Officer Veteran Member

    Sep 17, 2014
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    Thanks Huss for your story. Very inspiring. Nice to see all the good this charity does.
    BigHussy likes this.
  3. Averie

    Averie Averie#1956 - Add me! Website Administrator Mythic Gamer Veteran Member

    Sep 24, 2014
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    Long Island, New York
    It's an honor to raise money for such an amazing organization :)

    Ty so much for sharing.
    BigHussy likes this.
  4. Mishi

    Mishi Tenacious Gamer Epic Gamer ArcheAge Unchained Chapter Lead

    May 29, 2017
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    I love what this camp does from everything I've heard and seen. Huss, sharing your experiences with all of us is really amazing, and helps us all better understand North Star Reach. I hate seeing people go through what those kids have to, but I am so glad there's a camp, where they can be a kid at! (Or even swim or fish for the 1st time, ect...)

    Thank you very much for sharing, it was wonderful to read!!!
    BigHussy likes this.

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