Camp Dreamcatcher 5K debuts on July 16
● By Steven Hoffman
As Camp Dreamcatcher prepares for its 20th anniversary year, the Kennett Square organization is introducing a new fundraiser to support programming: The Camp Dreamcatcher 5K will take place at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, July 16 at the Brandywine Park in Wilmington, Del.
“It's exciting to have a different event that we can extend to new people,” said Patty Hillkirk, the director of Camp Dreamcatcher. “The 5K will be a fun event and participation in this will make a difference in the lives of many children, including those in our community.”
Hillkirk said that the 5K was made possible by Races 2 Run, a Delaware business headed by Wayne and Barb Kursh, that helps non-profit organizations raise money through running, walking, or multi-sport events. The Kurshes offered their services for this 5K as a donation to Camp Dreamcatcher. Since Races 2 Run promotes events throughout Delaware, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and New Jersey, the company is familiar with how to get all the necessary permits and approvals to stage a race.
“All those minor details that are important are all being taken care of by Races 2 Run,” Hillkirk explained.
With the race details being handled by Races 2 Run, that leaves Hillkirk and her group of loyal volunteers to raise awareness about Camp Dreamcatcher and its programs, and to assist with making the 5K a fun, family-friendly event.
Camp Dreamcatcher provides free therapeutic and educational programs to children whose lives have been adversely affected by HIV or AIDS. Through the years, nearly 5,000 youngsters, primarily from the Mid-Atlantic region, have benefited from the programs and services. A week-long camp in the summer is the focal point of the program, but as the needs of youngsters have evolved, Camp Dreamcatcher has responded by adding new programs throughout the year, including weekend retreats and leadership-in-training seminars. This year's camp session takes place Aug. 23-29 at Camp Saginaw in Oxford.
Fundraisers and community support are essential to Camp Dreamcatcher because all of its programs and services are free to children who benefit from them.
“Ninety-seven percent of families that we work with are low-income,” Hillkirk explained.
Camp Dreamcatcher was started in the mid-1990s to help children who were either HIV-positive themselves or who had close family members who were HIV-positive. Back then, the life expectancy of a youngster diagnosed with HIV didn't extend past the teen years so the camp initially focused on children between the ages of 6 and 14. As advancements were made in the treatments and medications, there has been a significant increase in the life expectancy for people diagnosed with HIV—so much so, in fact, that children can now expect to grow up and lead productive lives. Camp Dreamcatcher's programming has evolved to meet the changing needs of the youngsters. Some of the five- and six-year-olds who attended the first camps now serve as counselors-in-training and help the younger children.
Hillkirk lamented that so far 141 kids have asked to come to camp this year, but right now they only project funding that will accommodate 130 children. She remains hopeful that last-minute donations may make it possible to register more children for the camp session.
“What is different this year,” said Hillkirk, “is how quickly we filled up. We haven't filled up this quickly since 1998.”
According to Hillkirk, one concerning issue that has come up this year is the large number of new campers who are HIV-positive. She explained that throughout the country, there are small pockets in some communities where HIV rates are once again on the rise because people are sharing needles when they use drugs. That may be the case in Chester County and other suburban Philadelphia communities where heroin is available.
The number of campers from Chester County is increasing from 9 to 21.
“That's been a goal of ours for many years because we know that there are children in the area who need our services,” Hillkirk said.
Each year, Camp Dreamcatcher blends typical summer camp activities like swimming with a variety of therapeutic programs that are aimed at helping youngsters cope with the challenges that they face on a daily basis. Hillkirk said that this year the camp will include a visit from some members of the Philadelphia 76ers as well as Alpacas on the Go, but there will also be visits from representatives from Minding Your Mind, a suicide prevention group that bring in youngsters who have gone through some of the same situations that these youngsters are facing.
Hillkirk said that she's looking forward to the 5K in part because it will likely encourage participation from new people who might not even be familiar with the work that Camp Dreamcatcher does.
Registration is $25 before the day of the event and $30 on July 16. Students can participate for $20 in advance. Everyone who takes part in the 5K will receive a t-shirt. There will be refreshments and top prizes for the top finishers among the runners and walkers.
Hillkirk said that expenses for the race have been underwritten by friends and supporters of Camp Dreamcatcher.
“This means that all of the sponsorships and entry fees will support our programs,” Hillkirk said, explaining that the goal is to raise about $25,000 from the 5K. That will allow about 50 children to attend the camp.
Sponsors of the 5K include Bob and Jennifer McNeil, on behalf of the Chester County Food Bank, Dansko, Griffin & Mason, AMSkier, Rick & Kay Braun, Ginny and Bob Fineberg, Kravet, Miss WCU 2015, Aardvark Pest Control, Brandywine Hospital Medical/Dental Staff, Duchess Yoh, Phi Kappa Phi Fraternity, Anne Humes, Di and Dallas Krapf, Pagnotta Engineering, The Birth Center, Fred Weiner, Races2run and Darman & Associates.
Registration and more information is available at www.races2run.com/events/camp-dreamcatcher-5K.