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Chester County Press

'What all of you are doing is making the dreams of youngsters come true'

04/11/2016 01:16PM ● By Steven Hoffman

There are many different ways to attempt to measure the impact that Camp Dreamcatcher has had during its 20-year history.

The organization has provided free therapeutic and educational programs to more than 5,000 youngsters who have been impacted by HIV or AIDS.

The programs and services that Camp Dreamcatcher has provided to those 5,000 youngsters amounts to about $4.5 million in free programs.

The organization has performed HIV education and outreach programs to more than 500 schools or community groups. More than 900 counselors have attended HIV/AIDS and diversity training.

There have been 20 camp sessions and 26 weekend retreats for children and their families, and another 33 reunion events.

But all these numbers tell only part of the story, not the whole story.

There is no way to measure the true impact of Camp Dreamcatcher because things like love and friendship and kindness and hope can't be measured.

On April 3, Camp Dreamcatcher celebrated its 20th anniversary with a dinner and auction at the Red Clay Room in Kennett Square. The event was a fundraiser, but it was also an opportunity to thank the volunteers and supporters who enable the non-profit to offer its programs and services to children. State Sen. Andy Dinniman was on hand to present Camp Dreamcatcher founder and executive director Patty Hillkirk with a proclamation honoring the organization for its wide-reaching contributions.

“I remember when this was Patty's dream,” Dinniman said, “and she made it a reality.”

Referring to the room filled with these volunteers and supporters of Camp Dreamcatcher, Dinniman said, “What all of you are doing is making the dreams of the youngsters come true.”

There's no way to measure the impact of that, either.

Hillkirk founded Camp Dreamcatcher 20 years ago, hoping to make a small difference in the lives of children who had been impacted by HIV or AIDS. Hillkirk explained that the youngsters who come to Camp Dreamcatcher are challenged by many issues, and HIV is just one of them. At the camp, the youngsters learn how to cope with life's struggles in a supportive environment.

A quote by cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead was featured prominently on the booklet for the 20th anniversary celebration: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” It was in that spirit that Camp Dreamcatcher was founded, and Dinniman explained that change doesn't come from the government, and it usually doesn't come from the majority, but rather from a small group of people who work to make a positive change.

“All you need to change the world is a dream, a hope,” Dinniman said.

One of the highlights of the evening was a performance by Ida Kafavian, an internationally acclaimed violinist. She was joined by music students from The Curtis Institute.

Another highlight was a video presentation that showcased some of the activities from the first 20 years of Camp Dreamcatcher. Dan Fineberg, a volunteer at the camp, produced the video, incorporating a poem by Callie Fraser to serve as the framework for the video. Fraser, a student at West Chester University, wrote the poem in response to the question, “What does social work mean to you?” as part of a school project. Fraser was inspired by the campers and counselors at Camp Dreamcatcher.

The guest speaker for the event was Miguel Correa, who has been coming to the camp since he was five years old. He started out as one of the youngest campers, but is now a counselor in the leadership-in-training program. Correa spoke about the impact that Camp Dreamcatcher has had on his life, including all the positive relationships that he has built as a result of his involvement with Camp Dreamcatcher.

One of the most emotional moments of the night came when Correa was talking about Amber, one of his friends at camp who passed away at the age of just 27 early in 2016 from health complications related to AIDS.

“It's hard not to see her face here tonight,” Correa said. “She was my good friend.”

Noting that the rate of HIV infections has remained steady for the last two decades, Hillkirk said that the impact of AIDS is still very much an issue that people need to be aware of. Consequently, Camp Dreamcatcher's goals of raising awareness about the importance of HIV testing, treatment, education and outreach are more important than ever.

Hillkirk expressed her gratitude to the individuals, businesses, and groups that support the organization, including those that donated items for the live and silent auctions at the 20th anniversary celebration. The event raised approximately $30,000 that will used for a variety of programs, including helping to send children to the 2016 Camp Dreamcatcher, which is slated for Aug. 21 to 27.

While Hillkirk was quick to credit the hundreds of volunteers and supporters who help with Camp Dreamcatcher's overall mission, she was praised for providing the vision for the organization, and for being its driving force.

Nathan Schenker, the president of Camp Dreamcatcher's board of directors, said that Hillkirk is “the heart and soul” of the organization.

“We're all here because of Patty,” Schenker said.