I feel very fortunate to have grown up less than 10 minutes away from an organization that has remained close to my heart: Paul Newman’s The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp (THITWGC) in Ashford, Connecticut. It gave me all that I needed to thrive as a young girl with a life-threatening condition. Camp subsequently changed my life without me even fully realizing it until years later. All I knew as a camper was that I wasn’t alone in our newly-moved-to state of Connecticut; there were other kids who were dealing with their own medical challenges. I related to them more than I related to anyone my age who lived near me.
This summer camp provides “a different kind of healing” to children who have been diagnosed with a serious medical condition. They spend a week in a color themed cabin (Red, Yellow, Green, Blue, or Purple) with other campers their age and are able to finally enjoy a sense of freedom in spite of their illness. There’s an all-inclusive swimming pool, Arts & Crafts and Woodshop, Sports & Rec, Theater, and so much more.
The counselors (individually assigned to each cabin and unit color) were a huge part of what made this camp so magical for me as a camper. If you knew me back then (already 15+ years ago!), this post is dedicated to you. I wish I could thank every single one of you individually but these words will have to suffice.
1) Encouraging me to try new things, like performing on stage, riding a horse (for the first time) through a scavenger hunt nature trail, seeing the view of Camp from atop the 40-foot climbing tower, and participating in icebreaker games.
2) Spending time with me in the Olympic-sized pool (while saving bugs from drowning), and assisting me in the deep end because I was unable to take the swim test.
3) The countless bracelets that we beaded together, mugs we painted, wood plaques you helped me carve, t-shirts that were screen printed, and so many other random projects.
4) The hours you spent with me in the infirmary when I wasn’t feeling well. You waited with me while I rested and then walked with me to the theater to watch the latest Disney film.
5) Understanding why I didn’t always want to dance in the dining hall after mealtimes. Instead, you stayed with me at our cabin’s table singing songs out of the songbooks or ones we had memorized.
6) Not allowing me to go home my first year as a camper even though I asked every single day. You always said there was something to look forward to that I wouldn’t want to miss… but truthfully, you really just knew that camp was the best place for me at that time.
7) Appreciating my quietness and complementing me with your bolder personality.
8) Supporting my childhood love of Beanie Babies… and still associating me with them today.
9) Helping me discover my passion for photography.
10) Reassuring my parents that I’d be fine without them for a week.
You helped make my childhood memorable and bright despite my rare disease and serious physical limitations. There were a lot of “regular kid” things I missed out on, but Camp made up for pretty much everything. I felt included and accepted for the first time, and, of course, safe, respected, and loved.
Camp gave me the childhood that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.
Thank you for contributing to it.
In memory of Paul Newman, the reason for it all, and in honor of his would-be 91st birthday.
You’re forever missed.