Eleanor Fanto, Nu’21, GNu’21
“This summer I am a counselor at Brainy Camps - a residential camp for children with chronic health conditions. It is a subsidiary of Children’s National Hospital.”September 10, 2021
The campsite is the Blue Ridge School located 40minutes outside of Charlottesville, Virginia in the beautiful blue ridge mountains.
Brainy Camps currently runs camps for the following conditions: celiac disease, Down syndrome, epilepsy, hemiplegia/cerebral palsy, high functioning Autism, hydrocephalus, neurofibromatosis, sickle cell anemia, tourette syndrome, and Type 1 Diabetes.
There is also a program named “Transitional Youth” for older teens/young adults with high-functioning Autism to learn life skills. There is a full medical staff that specializes in the particular condition each week. Many of the medical staff are from Children’s National and are the children’s care providers.
At camp, kids engage in typical summer camp experiences such as swimming, canoeing, arts and crafts, sports, archery, etc. What is unique about this camp though is that kids are given the opportunity to meet and bond with other kids with the same or similar health conditions and to become more independent and confident.
During each camp, the kids also have an hour-long “doc talk” where they get the opportunity to ask any questions about their conditions in a casual setting.
The camp directors - one of whom is a clinical psychologist and the other who is a social worker - run an hour-long group therapy session for the kids as well. Brainy Camps combined many of these programs together this year to create a more limited experience due to COVID-19 precautions.
The first week, epilepsy, hemiplegia/CP, Tourettes, and NF were combined. I was in a bunk with four other counselors and 14 girls with either epilepsy, CP, or Tourettes.
In my second week at camp, I was in a bunk with girls with heart disease and four other counselors. This camp was combined with Type I Diabetes.
I got the opportunity to use my nursing skills to help address any health concerns my girls had, help them with activities of daily living, and bond with them.
What struck me was how attached I became to them all and to the staff. We witnessed one girl with severe CP and developmental disabilities grow from being incredibly homesick and isolating herself to making a ton of new friends are participating in every activity within four days.
Brainy Camps creates such an incredibly inclusive and warm environment.
To submit your own story, visit www.nursing.upenn.edu/humans.