This summer, the Vertex Foundation was excited to support a return to in-person camps for children in Ireland, France and the U.S.
When a child is living with a serious illness, it impacts the whole family. So, it is a joy to support unique summer camp experiences that are dedicated to the siblings of children with serious illnesses. SeriousFun Children's Network camps help children and their families reach beyond illness to discover joy, confidence and possibilities. The Vertex Foundation has supported camps since 2019.
While it was wonderful to see these organizations pivot and innovate to support virtual summer camp during the pandemic, there is nothing like experiencing the joys of summer camp in person.
In July, the Foundation supported a weeklong sibling camp session at Barretstown, a specially designed camp in County Kildare, Ireland, that provides therapeutic recreation programs for children with serious and often life-threatening illnesses and their families. Barretstown’s mission is to support children and their families with serious illness across Ireland, Europe and the United States.
For more than 80 siblings who attended the seven-day program, this camp offered the opportunity for siblings of a seriously ill child to meet peers that understand what it’s like to have a sick sibling. The focus was completely on them, and they got to experience new activities, challenge themselves and help build their self-confidence. They left camp with new connections and a built-in network of friends who truly understand their world and can support each other as they return to their usual lives.
Even though summer is over, it’s always wonderful to hear from families who had the chance to experience the magic of Barretstown for themselves. Madi attended sibling camp, and her mom shared that, “Madi adores sibling camp — she’s met friends who are walking the same life path as her, children she can really connect with about her emotions and feelings around life with a sibling who has complex needs.” Madi’s brother has a serious illness that requires 24-hour care and spends extensive periods of time in the hospital. In addition to prioritizing fun and attention focused on the sibling, it also provides peace of mind for parents, as they know their children are “looked after exceptionally well at sibling camp in Barretstown.”
L’ENVOL is an organization in France dedicated to creating adaptive programs for young people with serious illnesses and their families. Their vision is to allow sick children to remain children and to allow their families to gain strength and confidence.
The Foundation partnered with L’ENVOL to host a Brothers and Sisters Camp session in July with 31 campers. The camp provided children with a break from their daily home and family life. For five days, they got to spend time outside their family circle and meet and interact with other children. The week was supported by 13 volunteers who were present daily throughout the week and helped foster a fun and supportive environment while at camp.
The week began with activities focused on getting to know each other, and it built on and strengthened those new bonds to create magical experiences and unforgettable memories. From creative activities to cooperative games and climbing trees, the campers got to experience joy and fun at every turn. Each day they were also given the opportunity to express their feelings and share impressions of the day as a group. This safe space also enabled them to share about their brothers’ and sisters’ illnesses and their own feelings.
Overall, the sibling camp was a great success, especially when you hear directly from the campers themselves. From a survey conducted by L’ENVOL, 90% saw the camp as “another world,” 87% tried new things, and 100% were proud to have successfully completed the activities.
The Foundation also supported a Siblings Camp session, where children with serious illnesses and their brothers and sisters can attend camp together — providing opportunities for siblings to have fun and strengthen their relationship.
The Painted Turtle, United States
In San Diego, the Foundation continues to partner with The Painted Turtle. In August, The Painted Turtle welcomed 48 campers for their 2022 Summer Sibling Session. These sessions are solely for siblings of campers who attend condition-specific camp sessions. For five days, campers from all walks of life took center stage — they swam, fished, paddled boats and kayaks, and sang and danced their way through the week while creating new bonds with new camp friends and counselors.
When campers were asked to describe their Sibling Session experience, the top responses were Fun, Amazing and Magical. This type of impact is exactly what the Foundation strives to support.
It’s also wonderful that the Foundation supported The Painted Turtle’s Campamento para Familia Weekend in November. Campamento is an important program created to build a bridge for families with parents and caregivers whose primary language is Spanish and who may have concerns about their children experiencing a language barrier while at camp. Plus, as a Family Camp, the whole family can attend and experience the activities and programs together.