Sending your kid to a week-long camp for the first time is scary for any parent, but for parents of children with epilepsy the fear is even stronger. This was definitely the case for Shelly and Tom Stowell when they first heard about Camp Oz and dropped their 10-year-old son Ben off for the first time. However, these fears were erased before orientation was complete.
“At check-in, meeting one-on-one with Ben’s cabin nurse was very reassuring. She asked us about routines, and Ben about his fears. Everyone was so kind and confident, we knew he would create some of the best memories of his childhood there,” says Shelly.
Many of the cabin nurses, who work full-time at schools during the winter, return year after year to support the youth attending camp for the week. Almost nine years have passed since that first orientation meeting, and it turns out Shelly was right about those lasting memories.
“They made me feel part of a unit rather than just another person. Not a day goes by when I don’t stop and think about how fun it was being at the beach with my friends, or that time my cabin did arts and crafts. Sometimes, it’s just remembering when as a cabin we sat around the campfire, had s’mores, and talked about our personal lives,” says Ben.
It’s not just the memories created that makes attending camp a necessity for kids with epilepsy, it’s the realization that they’re not alone. At an age when feeling different than your peers is the scariest thing of all, knowing that others are going through the same things is priceless.
“I felt proud to attend camp because when I was little I thought I was the only one who had this disability. Then I met a bunch of other people who had the same thing and that made Camp Oz feel like my own special secret place where I could just be free and have nobody judge me just because I was different from my other friends at home.”
When it came time to register Ben for his return to camp, there was no hesitation. The week away not only gave him a taste of independence, it also allowed Shelly and Tom the time to recharge their batteries – something all parents, especially those who have a child with epilepsy, need every once in a while.
“All you have to do is look at those kids who are coming back for the second time. You can see it on their faces how much they love camp,” says Tom.
Ben’s return also allowed for him to once again experience his favorite activity, which was about more than just having fun.
“The thing I looked forward to most about going to camp was horseback riding because the horse didn’t care about my physical condition.”
It’s these seemingly “small things” that make camp have such a positive impact on those who attend. Not only is it a time for kids with epilepsy to experience camp and enjoy new activities in a safe environment, but being surrounded by other people (and animals) that don’t care about their differences is an unmeasurable feeling that never leaves them.
“As a parent, I would like to reassure others considering Camp Oz to definitely do it. There are so many great things about it. The staff is kind and very capable of caring for our children, and we’re also very thankful for how affordable it is each year. The experience they provide for the campers is unbelievable. It’s been fun seeing them all grow year after year,” says Shelly.