Each year as summer break approaches it reminds me of years ago when I traveled solo aboard a Trailways bus to my first overnight camp session. Terrified yet excited, the anticipation of freedom, fun and new friendships in an uncharted environment was intoxicating. Summer camp was all I envisioned, and I remained a devoted camper for years eventually continuing on as an employee in college. The value of sleep-away camp is immeasurable in giving young people important life and social skills, but for a variety of obstacles it is unfortunately not always accessible to every child. Camp Pelican is in the business of making summer camp possible for all!
Situated on property in nearby Leesville through a partnership with the Louisiana Lions League for Children, Inc., children with pulmonary disorders – such as but not limited to severe asthma, cystic fibrosis, tracheotomy and ventilator-assisted children – have the opportunity to attend the week-long overnight Camp Pelican. The annual session is open to Louisiana children 5 to 15 years old, offering an adventure to 100 children each summer who wouldn’t be able to attend regular camp programs due to their extensive medical needs. Although Camp Pelican has been running since 1978, they continue to be challenged in sharing availability to families of children with pulmonary disorders but maintain their quest to host more campers each summer. Incredibly, the generosity of foundations, sponsors and fundraising through the annual “Pelicanpalooza” (September 28, 2019) makes it possible for every child to attend Camp Pelican free of charge.
Completely volunteer based, Camp Pelican is staffed by dedicated, trained professionals including physicians, nurses, respiratory therapists, child life specialists, educators and social workers because, in addition to the normal duties of a camp counselor, they must provide extensive medical care for the overall wellbeing of the campers. The camp provides an unprecedented one-to-one staff to camper ratio, giving parents peace of mind when trusting their children to the care of others. Daily monitoring of physical and emotional progress by staff members help facilitate meaningful interactions among campers to establish a sense of security and personal identity. “I was very nervous at first, but the camp administration, nurses and volunteers made me feel very comfortable with leaving my son for a whole week!” said a camper’s mother. A week at Camp Pelican is often just what the doctor ordered – some independence for campers and a break from demanding routines for parents.
One of the greatest aspects of summer camp is undoubtedly the wide variety of activities and the freedom to try them all. Typical activities such as swimming, sports, canoeing, sing-a-longs, talent shows, bonfires and arts and crafts are offered in a safe environment. Unique to Camp Pelican, they incorporate entertaining yet educational daily sessions designed to teach campers how to manage living with their illnesses and fit into society while dependent on devices or therapies. Having fun doing “normal kid” camp activities empowers the children to see beyond their limitations through experiences they will remember for a lifetime.
“This camp, it’s not just a camp, it’s a life changing experience for children who live with life altering illnesses,” says a mother of two campers. “The highlight of my kids’ year is their trip to camp, and it doesn’t matter how many times I write it down for people to read, Camp Pelican gives my kids the ability to be like everyone else, and that’s all I could ever want for them.”
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To learn more about or make a donation to Camp Pelican visit CampPelican.org.