Camp Dreamcatcher makes a major impact on young lives
● By Steven Hoffman
In this issue of the Chester County Press, we feature a story about Camp Dreamcatcher, a Kennett Square organization that serves children whose lives have been affected by HIV or AIDS. Some of the children suffer from the disease themselves, while others have parents or siblings who have been diagnosed with HIV or AIDS.
Patty Hillkirk founded the organization in the mid-1990s to provide therapeutic programs and counseling services to children who are facing issues that many adults would have a difficult time with. For each of the last 21 summers, Camp Dreamcatcher has brought together children from all over the Mid-Atlantic region for a summer camp that blends the fun and friendships of a traditional summer camp with a variety of therapeutic programs aimed at helping the children mature into happy, productive adults. The children are wise beyond their years, their personalities inevitably shaped by their fortitude in the face of adversity.
The camp itself is a safe place where the children can forget about their troubles and feel loved. The children look forward to camp week, and many of them return year after year.
Many of the 200 or so volunteers, including camp counselors and medical staffers who care for the children during camp week, also return year after year because the experiences of interacting with the children is so rewarding and inspiring. The children have always been the most important part of Camp Dreamcatcher because it's their smiles and laughter and tears that make Camp Dreamcatcher what it is, which is a very large, extended family of people who care about each other.
Initially, the camp only served children between the ages of 5 and 13. But when the first group of children turned 13, no one wanted to stop caring for them so new programs were developed to address the needs of teenagers. Now, older teenagers and young adults serve as leaders-in-training or camp counselors and they share their experiences with the younger children, just as an older sibling would help out a brother or sister.
Through the years, more than 5,000 youngsters have benefited from the programs that Camp Dreamcatcher offers, a truly amazing number considering that all the work is accomplished by Hillkirk, a small but dedicated staff, and a small army of big-hearted volunteers. All the services are provided free of charge to the children, many of whom live in poverty.
Earlier this year, State Sen. Andrew Dinniman issued a proclamation honoring Camp Dreamcatcher for helping children for the last 20 years. Dinniman explained at the time that Camp Dreamcatcher illustrated the idea that all you need to change the world is a dream.
“What all of you are doing,” Dinniman said at the time, “is making the dreams of youngsters come true.”
We'd also like to congratulate the organization on reaching the 20-year milestone and for making a difference in the lives of so many youngsters. Kudos to Hillkirk, the Camp Dreamcatcher staff, and all the volunteers and supporters who make Camp Dreamcatcher a reality. It's a beautiful family that you all have.