May 2006 
Volume 05, Issue 1 
Main Feature

Happy campers

ECF funds support a unique camp for children in central Florida

Most kids love summer camp, and 13-year-old Sam McLean is no exception. Considering Sam has been to Camp Boggy Creek in Florida three times, he must love it. But while Camp Boggy Creek features many of the activities and facilities you'd find in most summer camps—a lake for fishing, an arts and crafts area, etc.—it offers so much more.

That's because Camp Boggy Creek is part camp and part critical care center that caters to children afflicted with chronic or life-threatening illnesses. These conditions range from cancer to asthma to sickle cell anemia—15 medical specialties in all. By conducting weeklong or weekend camps for children with a specific condition, Camp Boggy Creek gives these kids a memorable, fun experience of just being normal—at no cost to them or their families.

For Sam, a son of a Boeing employee, it's a heart condition, and he's already had four surgeries to correct the problem. "They're absolutely worth the support," said Cheri McLean, a member of the International Space Station/Checkout, Assembly and Payload Processing Services (CAPPS) Configuration Management team at Kennedy Space Center, Fla., and Sam's mother. "I wish everyone could go to see the smiles on the kids' faces."

Located in Eustis, Fla., about a two-hour drive from Kennedy Space Center, Camp Boggy Creek was established in 1996. It's a member of the Association of Hole in the Wall Camps, the world's largest family of camps for children with serious illnesses and life-threatening conditions. Attendees are Florida children between the ages of 7 and 16. To care for the campers' conditions, the camp includes a medical facility that's run by a full-time medical director and her staff.

Because Camp Boggy Creek brings together children with the same medical condition, the campers realize they don't stand out from other kids.

"We want the kids to feel normal around their peers. Plus, we want them to be able to share their experiences, feelings and therapy," said Terry Zwicker, the camp's major gifts officer. "Any issues these kids have, we want them to understand that they're not alone."

As a sign of the bonding that takes place among campers, Zwicker noted that for the cancer session, the campers will feel comfortable enough with each other to remove the wigs they've worn to cover the hair loss caused by chemotherapy. And in support of these attendees, the counselors have been known to shave their hair for that week.

During the rest of the year, Camp Boggy Creek conducts illness-specific weekend camps for children—and invites the kids' family members to come along. That gives parents a chance to see what the camp is all about, as well as an opportunity to talk with parents of children with the same illness.

It was during one of these weekend camps that ECF representatives from Boeing Florida made their first visit. Lynn Pemberton, a principal contract administrator for Integrated Defense Systems at Kennedy Space Center and a member of the Florida ECF board, recalled that the camp took extraordinary measures to let the campers "be normal kids at play." Among the little touches that helped emphasize this point: The theater's seating area has spaces for wheelchairs, but they were in different rows, instead of being partitioned in one area, to let these children better blend into the crowd.

"They have tremendous respect for the kids and their families," Pemberton said.

Last year, the Florida ECF approved Camp Boggy Creek's request for funds to purchase two electric carts, similar to ones found on golf courses. "Some of the kids who come to camp need assistance in traversing the campgrounds," Zwicker said. "The carts have been a tremendous help for the kids and their families."

Zwicker said Boeing employees have been supportive of the camp and its mission. The camp has set up booths at ECF fairs where employees can learn more about nonprofit organizations the Fund supports. "We appreciate the support of the Employees Community Fund," Zwicker said.

—Junu Kim

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