View Full Version : Fun, friends in the great outdoors

06-23-07, 07:28 AM
Fun, friends in the great outdoors

Muscular dystrophy camp ending today
By Anne Krueger

June 23, 2007

Nine-year-old Amy Wehner, propped up in her wheelchair, dabbed yellow and orange splotches of paint on a canvas held in her lap by camp counselor Daniela Cook.

Although her fingers were gnarled, Amy deftly handled the tiny paintbrush as she drew a picture of a campfire. Cook spoke encouraging words as she and the camper chatted about the painting.

It's the second year that Cook, a recent Vista High School graduate, has volunteered as Amy's counselor at Camp Cuyamaca. The camp gives children with muscular dystrophy an enjoyable week in the outdoors and their parents a respite.

“The kids have so much fun,” Cook, 18, said. “We have so much fun.”

The free camp, which ends today, is sponsored by the San Diego chapter of the Muscular Dystrophy Association. It's one of nearly 90 summer camps across the country for children with muscular dystrophy.

The San Diego chapter raises about $1 million in donations each year to pay for the camp, a clinic at Children's Hospital and wheelchairs, said district director Joanie Ewing.

Each of this year's 55 campers was assigned an individual counselor for the week. About half the counselors are Marines or Navy personnel stationed at Camp Pendleton who request the volunteer assignment. Other volunteers include teens such as Cook.

The camp serves those ages 6 to 21 and has been operating at least 25 years, said camp director Danielle Valenciano. It's based at the school camp at Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, about 40 miles east of San Diego.

The Muscular Dystrophy Association assists people who suffer from one of more than 40 diseases affecting the muscles or nerves. Many of the diseases strike in childhood and grow progressively worse. Some are untreatable, and treatments have just been developed for others, said Bob Mackle, a spokesman for the national Muscular Dystrophy Association.

Some campers are able to walk with barely a limp, but most must use a wheelchair.

Brandon Lovrien, 19, whirring down a dirt path in his motorized wheelchair, was in his 10th year at the camp. He said his favorite activity is “just hanging out.”

“You come back and see a lot of the same people,” said Lovrien, a San Clemente resident. “It's cool.”

Nick Metras, 13, of Chula Vista said he enjoyed swimming at camp because it has a mechanical lift to get him into the pool. “Swimming is easier here,” he said.

A game of hide-and-seek took on a different flavor with the military volunteers. They dressed in their camouflage uniforms and put camouflage paint on their faces, then hid along a trail in bushes or up a tree.

The campers walked or were wheeled down the trail, searching for them. They spotted only six of the 17.

When the signal was given, the other figures rose eerily from the greenery along the trail, to the delight of the campers.

Ian Dike, one of the Marines who hid along the trail, said he volunteered for the camp because he wanted to perform a community service that helped people.

“I have nothing against people who pick up trash, but there's more you can do and this is it,” said Dike, a lance corporal. “This is making a difference in someone's life.”

Anne Krueger: (619) 593-4962; anne.krueger@uniontrib.com