An expression of love for Camp Dreamcatcher
● By Steven Hoffman
During its 20-year history, Camp Dreamcatcher has provided programs and services to approximately 5,000 youngsters who have been impacted by HIV or AIDS. The organization has been the recipient of many grants from foundations and private donations from citizens. It has been featured in a documentary about the AIDS epidemic called “Tiny Tears” that had showings around the world. And anyone who has ever attended one of the first 19 camps will attest to the fact that there is no shortage of honest and heartfelt emotions as 130 or so campers come together as a family and are cared for by a loving team of about 260 volunteers. Director Patty Hillkirk has experienced a lot of joy from the human connections that have been made since she founded Camp Dreamcatcher 20 years ago, but there are still some moments that touch her heart so profoundly that she struggles to explain how much they mean to her.
One of those moments came earlier this spring, when Hillkirk showed up at the office in Kennett Square to find three boxes filled with unique artwork created by students at the Walnut Hill School for the Arts in Natick, MA. Students also sent notes and letters of encouragement for the children who attend Camp Dreamcatcher in the summer.
This act of kindness itself, by students so far away from Camp Dreamcatcher's home in Kennett Square, likely would have reduced Hillkirk to tears. But the sweet and hopeful sentiments expressed in the notes and letters really touched her heart.
“I was actually sitting on the floor crying when I was reading them,” Hillkirk explained. “We didn't request them. We didn't solicit them. They just arrived. This was really touching because they found out about us on the Internet. Those students chose to do this, which is so nice.”
The three boxes included about 95 pillowcases that were skillfully decorated. The pillowcases, notes, and letters will all be distributed to the children when they arrive at this year's camp on Aug. 23.
The upcoming camp will kickoff the 20th anniversary year for Camp Dreamcatcher. Hillkirk said that the organization is surveying the extended Camp Dreamcatcher family, everyone from donors to volunteers to family members, about how the organization can best meet the needs of youngsters who are impacted by HIV and AIDS.
“We've taken this as an opportunity to reflect on where we've been and where we're going,” said Hillkirk.
The camp held each summer is enormously helpful and popular with the youngsters, many of whom come back year after year. Some of the youngsters who are now serving as counselors will have been attending Camp Dreamcatcher for 19 out of the 20 years.
The children who attend the camp often say that Camp Dreamcatcher is a safe place where they can share their concerns and fears with people who understand them.
In response to a survey of caregivers, one mother of two HIV or AIDS affected campers said, “I am honored to be associated with Camp Dreamcatcher. It is the only way I can get him to open up to me and talk about my health with real understanding.”
The mother of one HIV or AIDS infected camper and one HIV or AIDS affected camper wrote, “Because of the stigma of HIV and the negative messages the world will send our children, it is so vital for families like ours to have that blessing and benefit of an amazing organization like Camp Dreamcatcher. It is totally changing lives.”
Hillkirk also said that she's been really touched by some of the comments and viewpoints offered by volunteers as well. A survey of volunteers revealed that 100 percent of the respondents believed that the volunteering experience at Camp Dreamcatcher has fulfilled their expectations.
When asked whether Camp Dreamcatcher has made a positive impact on your life, one survey respondent replied, “Camp has changed my life forever. It gives me a sense of home. I look forward to coming to camp...to see old and new faces.” Another wrote: “I am forever grateful to have the empathy and understanding I have learned from working with the kids at Camp Dreamcatcher.”
For information about how to volunteer or help, email email@example.com or visit www.campdreamcatcher.org.