PHOENIX – During the heat of the summer, it’s not unusual for people to think about escaping to the cool pines of Arizona’s high country.
For a special group of people, however, the getaway isn’t for themselves. They are camp counselors at MDA Summer Camp. While they’re there for the kids, the counselors have just as much fun as the campers. For many, the MDA Camp experience becomes an important part of their lives, something to be looked forward to and cherished.
3TV’s April Warnecke knows firsthand about MDA Summer Camp. She’s been a counselor for Sierra, now 14, for five years. The two have a special bond that’s common between campers and counselors.
Each camper’s needs are unique, and they change from year to year as his or her disease takes its toll and they get weaker.
“One thing they could do last summer, they may not be able to do this summer,” explained counselor Abbie Mucklow.
But that doesn’t dampen the experience.
“That’s the amazing thing about camp,” explained counselor Eric Auld. “It’s still hopeful despite all of that.”
Being a counselor at MDA Camp is about much more than being a caregiver.
“It's not just about letting them cut loose, but it's about providing a place for them to be a new kind of person … that maybe they haven't been before,” Auld said.
That’s just as true for the counselors as it is for the campers.
“It was life-changing,” Auld said of his MDA Camp experience.“It’s something that's become very essential to my life, which you might not think one week out of 52, but I've met some of my closest friends up here and I feel like a large part of my identity has come from being up here.”
“For you to just kind of put yourself to the side and focus on someone else is an eye-opening experience and it also gives you more perspective on life,” Mucklow agreed. “To be able to give them one week where they can just have fun and be normal, then that's an experience that is irreplaceable.”
It’s an incredible week for everyone. Saying goodbye at the end can be emotional.
“It's a very bittersweet farewell because a lot of times the future is quite uncertain for these kids,” Auld said. “I don't ever want to miss a year if I can help it. I mean, I feel like I would quit a lot of jobs to come up here.
“The people up here are inspiring. And everybody needs to be inspired,” he continued.
Such an amazing camp, which is one of nearly 80 throughout the country, does come cheap. It costs about $500 to send a child to the weeklong camp. It’s an expense the kids and their families don’t have to worry about. Your donations to the MDA cover everything, giving the kids a rare opportunity to enjoy independence they don’t get in their day-to-day lives.
“It's cool because you know that don't have to have your mom or your dad watching you,” said Ryan, one of the campers. “You know you can trust your counselor.”
This year’s telethon features a new format. Rather than a 21-hour marathon over two days, it’s a jam-packed seven hours on Sunday, Sept. 4. It starts at 5:30 p.m. on 3TV, and runs all the way through 12:30 a.m. (The national telethon is 6 p.m.-midnight.)