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Chester County Press

Camp Dreamcatcher plans 20th anniversary event

03/29/2016 04:48PM ● By Steven Hoffman

Twenty years ago, Patty Hillkirk founded Camp Dreamcatcher to provide free therapeutic and educational programs to youngsters impacted by HIV or AIDS. She was hoping to make a small difference in their lives. One of Hillkirk's favorite quotes is by cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead, who once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Camp Dreamcatcher was founded in that spirit.

The non-profit organization will celebrate its 20th anniversary with an evening of food, drinks, and music on Sunday, April 3, at the Red Clay Room in Kennett Square.

One of the highlights of the evening will be a performance by Ida Kafavian, an internationally acclaimed violinist. She will be joined by music students from The Curtis Institute. Kafavian and the students are donating their time to for the benefit of Camp Dreamcatcher.

“I am looking forward to celebrating 20 years of making a positive difference in the lives of HIV- or AIDS-impacted youth,” said Hillkirk.

Camp Dreamcatcher provides ongoing support to children and families facing not only the devastating impact of HIV or AIDS, but also the stigma and secrecy associated with the disease. Programs include a one-week therapeutic and educational camp session, a teen leadership retreat, a mentoring program, reunion events, a holiday adopt-a-family program and HIV/AIDS education, training and community outreach.

Hillkirk said that over the past 20 years, Camp Dreamcatcher has been able to provide over $4.5 million of free programming to children. But that's just one way to measure the impact that Camp Dreamcatcher has had as the only therapeutic camp session for this group of youngsters on the East Coast. Camp Dreamcatcher has provided services to more than 5,000 youngsters during its 20 years. There have been 20 camp sessions and 26 weekend retreats for children and their families, and another 33 reunion events. More than 900 counselors have attended HIV/AIDS and diversity training. The organization has performed HIV education and outreach programs to more than 500 schools or community groups.

Needless to say, with such a large, extended family, plenty of laughs and tears and memories will be shared at the 20th anniversary celebration.

One thing that Hillkirk is really looking forward to is the showing of a video that documents Camp Dreamcatcher's first 20 years. Dan Fineberg, one of the dedicated volunteers at camp, is using a poem by Callie Fraser as the framework for the video.

Fraser, a West Chester University student, 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. Her mother, Lisa Fraser, was a part of the small steering committee that met in January of 1996 as Hillkirk was founding the organization.

“She really captured everything we do in camp with that poem,” Hillkirk said.

There will also be displays of many of the items that the campers and camp supporters have made through the years.

Miguel Correa will be one of the speaker's at the event. He will be talking about the impact that Camp Dreamcatcher has had on his life. He started out as one of the youngest campers at Camp Dreamcatcher, went through the camp's special leadership-in-training program, and is now a counselor in that program. He will also be sharing memories of Amber, a former camper from the Lancaster, Pa. area who passed away from AIDS-related causes on New Year's Day this year. She was only 27.

Hillkirk said that everyone in Camp Dreamcatcher's extended family was deeply saddened by Amber's passing.

“She loved to sing and dance,” Hillkirk explained. “She was always performing. If there was a microphone, she was going to be behind it.”

Amber's death, and the recent hospitalization of another camper for pneumonia, is a reminder of the serious challenges that people living with HIV or AIDS face. Because of those challenges, more services and support are needed each year. Hillkirk promised that the 20th anniversary event will offer a celebration of the first 20 years, but it will also be a time of reflection on the serious nature of HIV and AIDS.

“We're celebrating the 20 years, but we're also acknowledging that this is still an issue,” Hillkirk said. “Sadly, the rate of new HIV infections has remained steady for two decades. Worldwide, there are two million new infections each year, and 50,000 of those are in the United States. Thirteen percent of those infected do not know they are infected. The importance of HIV testing, treatment, education and outreach cannot be stressed enough.”

One illustration of the growing need for services can be found in the fact that 55 children have already registered for the 2016 Camp Dreamcatcher that will take place from Aug. 21 to 27, which is a record number for this time of year. Hillkirk hopes that the camp will once again be able to accommodate approximately 130 campers.

Hillkirk said that she is grateful for everyone who is helping with the 20th anniversary event as it will serve as an important fundraiser for future activities, including the upcoming camp week. She said that she was very touched that a musician of Kavafian's caliber would be willing to donate her time to the cause. Kavafian is a regular artist of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and former violinist of the renowned Beaux Arts Trio, as well as, faculty member at The Curtis Institute, Juilliard School and Bard College. She has performed extensively as soloist, and has premiered, toured and recorded many new works by such diverse composers as Toru Takemitsu, Michael Daugherty, Chick Corea, Wynton Marsalis and Mark O’Connor.

“I am really blown away that she and the students are donating their time like this,” Hillkirk said. “It's going to be amazing.”

Another highlight of the event will be a silent auction that will feature a wide variety of items, including overnight stays at Sonesta Philadelphia, Westin Philadelphia, Sheraton Society Hill Philadelphia, Sheraton Downtown Philadelphia, and Loews Philadelphia; two nights at the Adventurer Oceanfront Inn in Wildwood, NJ; gift certificates to Steven Starr and Vetri Restaurants in Philadelphia; and a jersey autographed by Lionel Messi, the world's best soccer player. There will also be gift baskets, a summer family pool membership to the Kennett YMCA pool, a gift certificate to Standing Hope Equine Assisted Mindfulness Session, jewelry and original artwork, and Vera Bradley luggage.

Hillkirk said that the evening will be a way to recognize the contributions of the volunteers and sponsors who make it possible for Camp Dreamcatcher to continue to provide its programs and services.

“I am extremely grateful for the donors and volunteers for helping us maintain the dream of providing a safe and supportive community to HIV/AIDS impacted youth and their families,” explained Hillkirk.

Sponsors for the 20th anniversary event include Griffin & Mason, Braun & Fineberg Families, Dansko, Brandywine Valley Infectious Diseases Associates, Jack Schwartz & Maggie O’Connor, Kennett Lions Club Morning Branch, BDB Company/Bob DeMento, Jr., Victoria McNeil LeVine, WSFS Bank and Ken Pienkos.

Hillkirk added that one thing that continually inspires and amazes her is the dedication of the volunteers.

“A lot of the counselors come back year after year,” she explained. “It's pretty amazing that people give decades of their lives to this. It's a community of people and a family that continues to grow.”

The event runs from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. For more information about the evening's offerings or to reserve tickets, visit or call 610-925-2998.