When I arrived through the gates at the Barretstown camp, I was eager to meet my campers and fellow group of volunteers, caras, Gaelic for friend. What I didn’t know is what a lasting impact this camp, set in Ballymore Eustace, Ireland, would have on my life.
I first heard about Barretstown through my colleague Rob Pleticha at EURORDIS. Together we manage RareConnect, an online platform where rare disease patients can connect globally. Rob attended the camp in the summer of 2012 and had rave reviews about his week in Irish countryside. I knew this was something I had to see firsthand.
Barretstown is part of the Serious Fun Children’s Network founded by Hollywood actor Paul Newman. Barretstown opened its doors in 1994 and since then they have welcomed over 21,000 campers from across Europe through their gates.
Along with its sister camps around the world, Barretstown supports children with serious illness and their families. Through its Therapeutic Recreation program, children regain confidence, independence and self-esteem in a medically secure environment, with the ultimate priority of having fun. Barretstown has a fully equipped medical facility on-site staffed by pediatric specialists.
Days are well structured at camp with morning and afternoon activities. Challenge is always by choice and campers have the option to participate in countless activities including archery, horse riding, arts and crafts, canoeing, fishing, cooking, and high ropes. Each program and activity at camp is specially designed to help each camper cope and recover from the devastating effects of a serious illness. Each day at camp concludes with cottage time where campers and caras discuss the day’s events and have an opportunity for self-reflection.
I had the opportunity to volunteer during the first-ever Brothers and Sisters weekend. During this autumn program, held over a long weekend, both patients and their siblings attended camp. I was fortunate enough to work with a group of 7 year old girls. It was such an incredible feeling to replace stressful doctor’s visits, scary hospitals, and difficult treatments with one thing: FUN. These patients could finally be who they truly are, children.
My days are not the same without my ten campers. I miss roasting marshmallows in the cottage, scrubbing face paint off, dancing after dinner, canoeing in the rain, and just having fun. I was sad to leave the castle and the “Barretstown bubble”. We had four days jam-packed with laughter, team work, tears, singing, dancing, activities, friendship, and happiness. This weekend at Barretstown made a lasting impact on my life. I am so grateful for the opportunity I had to volunteer at the castle with the big red door.
Every year, Barretstown needs 700 volunteers and €4.5 million to run these life-changing programs. Children and families attend the camp free of charge. If you are interested in volunteering or financially supporting the camp, please check out their website.
When I think about things for which I am thankful this holiday weekend, this experience and Barretstown will be on the list. Have you had a similar experience you will be reflecting on this weekend?
RareDisease Dialog is the official blog for the National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD). NORD’s staff and friends will share information of interest to the entire rare disease community.
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