PHS Top Spots: Favorite Camp
PHS recently announced our list of 2020 PHS Top Spots winners. While we are just as excited to celebrate these amazing organizations as we have been in past years, most celebrations for these recipients will be taking place virtually. The current social distancing recommendations gives us an opportunity to share more insights on our blog as to what makes these groups and organizations stand-outs on our 2020 Top Spots list.
PHS Top Spots Winner: Favorite Camp
“This recognition means a lot for those of us that are already feeling we can’t say enough about how much kids and families love being a part of the Camp Odayin Crew,” said Brooke Byrd, program director at Camp Odayin. “We love being able to tell people, ‘Kids with heart conditions are thriving and can feel normal here.’ Being recognized as a Top Spot allows our voices to be even louder.”
Camp Odayin began in Minnesota, to support young people with heart disease and their families. In tribute to the Ojibwa tribe, who first lived in Minnesota, the camp founders named the camp “Odayin,” the Ojibwa word for heart.
Camp Odayin caters to campers from all over the country with options for Residential Camp, Day Camp, Family Camp(s), Winter Camp, a Moms Retreat and additional opportunities for families to connect throughout the year.
For many campers, Camp Odayin is their first time away from their family. Kids and parents are equally nervous. Once they arrive, they find a place of belonging and discover many of the volunteers are former campers.
The kids’ perspective quickly changes at camp. “They feel that people ‘get me’ and they are no longer embarrassed but are proud to show off their scars. For a lot of kids, it is the first time to go swimming without a T-shirt,” Brooke explained.
Camp Odayin has a ratio of one nurse for every six to nine campers as well as three to five cardiologists on site. In addition to the medical support, campers also have two counselors assigned to their cabin.
All counselors and medical staff are volunteers who participate in one or more session lasting five day for residential camp and three day for winter camp. Staff undergo a training session, where they learn about Odayin, their team, and how to best support their campers safety and health. For the cardiologists it is a great opportunity to see their patients enjoying themselves after all the hard work and recovery. “This is the only place kids are not told ‘stop’ or ‘can’t,’” says Brooke. “They have freedom to be themselves without technology or worry.”
The volunteers are invested in the mission to provide a safe, fun, and supportive community for these young people. Those connections and their community do not end with the camp session. During the COVID-19 quarantine several staff members reached out to help and support the families and kids struggling with the restrictions and feelings of isolation.
Camp in the Time of COVID-19
As the COVID-19 pandemic spread to the United States, Camp Odayin leadership knew early on that resident camp would not work for their population. “It was hard to cancel camp and shift gears so quickly,” said Brooke. “There is a lot of anticipation for camp each year from all who are involved.”
Camp Odayin leadership planned and executed a virtual camp from their Minnesota and Wisconsin sites. Each session included three to four hours daily of online time in big and small groups. Programming mimicked a traditional schedule with songs, counselor costumes, themes, flag raising ceremonies, and a choice of activities like photography, cooking, and scavenger hunts.
They also included self-guided and family-friendly activities between sessions, and an evening program each night. Campers had time with their “cabin” groups to help make connections and foster friendships as they would during an in-person camp experience.
“The coolest aspect of our virtual camp was the box we sent to campers,” said Brooke. “We sent the box early but told everyone they had to wait for opening day to see what was inside.”
The box included all the things campers would need to experience camp at home. Highlights included a bandana, food, puzzles, crafts, and family projects.
This year’s pandemic planning attracted a record number of campers with kids registering from new clinics and new states. Brooke says this new approach was an opportunity to serve a broader population. “Virtual camp was a good introduction for a lot of kids. This worked especially well for kids that are too sick or too scared to go. This year, they got to go to camp.”
Brooke says they plan to build on the model and include a virtual option for future programming. Registration is now open for virtual Family Camp, October 16-17 and November 6- 7. More information including registration deadlines can be found at: https://campodayin.org/camp-programs/virtual-family-camp/
The leadership at Camp Odayin works hard to ensure money will not be a barrier to the camp experience. They know that the high cost of medication and related medical expenses is a burden for many families. They fundraise throughout the year to keep all their programing fees at $25 a session. Full scholarships are also available to cover those fees.
For more information about programming or volunteering at Camp Odayin visit https://campodayin.org/