Camp Dragonfly Forest kicks of 6th summer session

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A one-of-a-kind camp is kicking off its sixth summer season in West Chester.

The goal of Camp Dragonfly Forest is to empower children with serious illnesses and disorders.

Dragonfly forest is the Philadelphia region's only summer camp that caters to children with respiratory problems, bleeding and sickle cell disorders, and autism. The idea is to help every one of them feel like a regular kid.

Campers at Dragonfly Forest learn to do things they never dreamed they could do.

"I like just adding the colors and make it creative," said Alley Thomas.

The children, ages 7 to 14, struggle with everything from 22Q Chromosome deletion, a genetic disorder, to autism, but enjoy activities like fishing, swimming, and one of Alley Thomas' favorite things, tie-dying t-shirts.

"It has a swirl all around the shirt," said Alley Thomas, who displayed her handiwork.

The camp is designed to make a traditional overnight camp program accessible to kids who often spend more time in a hospital than in the gym.

Taron Gorham, a former camper with sickle cell disorder, is now a counselor.

"When you have an illness, you feel like you can't do what other kids do," said Taron. "So when you have a counselor with the same illness, it kind of opens your mind, and lets you know you can do whatever you want regardless of your illness."

But because of their illnesses, the camp takes every precaution to keep them safe with a 24-hour infirmary known as the "Get Away" staffed by doctors from Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and St. Christopher's Hospital for Children.

"We're trying to give them a normal camp experience, but we want to be able to support them. So we try very hard to take care of them and to address any problems that they have," said Medical Director, Collette Mull.

Heather Shafi, a former camper, returned after entering medical school to do an elective at Camp Dragonfly.

"So now I'm here all four sessions of camp to help run instead of the counselor side of things, the medical side of things," said Heather.

The kids form strong friendships and build self esteem.

"The parents tell us the kids have this great sense of independence and self confidence after they return home," explained Fred Weiner, Executive Director of Dragonfly Forest.

"At my other camp, I was bullied," said Arriebelle Kinney, "but here they understand you, where you are coming from and they let you be yourself."

Dragonfly Forest runs until July 20th, with four free 6-day sessions.

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