When you’re a kid just diagnosed with a chronic illness such as arthritis, chances are you’re going to feel confused and isolated. Most likely, the only people you know or have heard of with arthritis are adults ages 60 and up.
Cue ‘The Painted Turtle.’
Founded by Paul Newman in 1999 and opened in 2004, The Painted Turtle gives children with serious illnesses the chance to feel like a kid for a week, and meet other kids going through the same things. And, the best part? It’s free.
Outfitted with a state-of-the-art Well Shell facility, The Painted Turtle is equipped to handle any medical problem that may arise during the five days at camp, all while ensuring they feel comfortable and connected to others.
While The Painted Turtle is a camp for children with medical problems, they make sure to include traditional camp activities. With an archery range, a swimming pool (in the shape of a killer whale, courtesy of SeaWorld), a woodshop, and a creative arts room filled to the brim with costumes and props to name a few, campers are sure to get the typical summer camp experience.
But, of course, with a unique camp, comes unique experiences.
The staff at The Painted Turtle knows that kids with chronic illnesses need extra time to rest and recharge, so they incorporate “Turtle Time” into campers’ schedules- a time to read a book, take a nap, or any other quiet activity.
With the third day comes Stage Night, a chance to showcase theatrical talents. Some campers plan their acts for months, excited to share their passion with the other campers.
Day four is all about Silly O. Silly O is the highlight of some campers’ weeks, as it is the chance to get messy and have fun. A number of Olympic-themed activities are planned, but with a twist. As you run relay races, spin wheels that determine your messy fate, and dance along to choreographed dances, counselors are armed with paint bottles and squirt guns, prepared to make sure no camper leaves Silly O with clean clothes.
Some typical camp experiences are altered to ensure every camper gets the chance to experience everything. The ropes course is complete with obstacles even wheelchair-bound campers can brave. The zip line is the standard way down, but if campers are feeling uneasy about zipping, they can climb down the rope ladder.
Closing Campfire is an emotional experience for newcomers and returning campers, alike. Leaders In Training walk around with microphones, allowing campers to share their favorite memory of the week. A slideshow plays with photos from the week, and campers cheer every time they see themselves or their friends on the projection screen.
After memories are shared, everyone sings the campfire song, “Stars in the Sky.” By the time the song is over, there isn’t a dry eye in the house. It’s enough to ensure that if you hear the song while away from camp, you tear up a bit, remembering your time fondly.
The Painted Turtle is an amazing experience, one where kids from all backgrounds come together over their common experience: trying to navigate growing up with a chronic illness. When you leave camp, you leave with new memories, lifelong friends, and a sense of belonging.
If you would like to attend or learn more about The Painted Turtle, you can visit their website.