Nick and Kelly Children’s Heart Camp is looking for people to make an impact in a child’s life. They recruited volunteer counselors at Mesa Community College (MCC) for their summer camp. It was the camp’s first time looking for volunteers at MCC.
The camp is for kids between the ages of 7 to 17 who suffer from congenital heart defects.
The one-week retreat gives the children a safe environment to enjoy a traditional home-away-from-home summer experience. The non-profit organization recruits all over the city, from hospitals to community colleges like MCC. Program leaders are always in need of male counselors because the majority of the estimated 60 volunteers they had were females.
It is always important to recruit a balanced staff because it’s a co-ed summer youth retreat. Being a camp counselor for the Nick and Kelly Children’s Heart Camp means more than receiving service learning hours. According to founder Dan Majetich, any student who is currently striving in the medical field would be “greatly improved by the experience.”
“I started as a counselor about six years ago and it got me hooked,” Matthew Colber, a returning counselor, said. “It’s just a lot of fun. You get to be a kid, you get to see these kids grow and develop and even when you’re tired, there’s no way these kids aren’t having fun when they come up to you and say you’re the best.” The camp is filled with activities like canoeing, horseback riding, zip lining, archery and arts, and crafts.
The campers also enjoy evening activities including dances and movie nights.
“[Our counselors] would get a worthwhile experience and they may even help a child in the process,” Majetich said.The Heart Fund is the non-profit organization that runs the Heart Camp. The organization was founded by Dan and Margaret Majetich in 1985 after their son Kelly died at the age of 9 from congenital heart failure.
The group provides financial assistance to families in need to help offset the cost of their children’s surgery. Creating the organization was a way for the Majetich’s to cope with the loss of their youngest child.In 1992, their personal ordeal took a turn for the worse when their oldest child Nick died of the same disease at the age of 18. The only thing that kept the couple going was their organization and the public talks they created and titled “Family Day Heart Talk”.
Still coping with the loss of their children, even years after their deaths, the couple found the energy to create a specialty camp for children with heart defects. The Nick and Kelly Children’s Heart Camp is hosting the one-week annual camp in Prescott.
“The best thing probably about camp is they [the children] are away from their parents and they are allowed to be children, they’re allowed to be kids, they’re allowed to try things with the supervision of nurses, doctors, and counselors,” Majetich said.
According to Dan Majetich, of the nearly 1,300 children who attend the camp 12 to 15 have undergone heart transplants. Many more children have gone through at least one major surgery. The co-founders are with the campers every day while they get to be as close to normal kids as possible.
“The best thing is just getting them out there and seeing the expressions on their faces and how happy they are and how they really bloom being away from parents that are obviously concerned about their children,” Majetich added. “It’s also an opportunity for the parents to realize that their child can function without them.”
The children do not pay anything to go camping. Everything is paid for by donations.
When the organization was first founded fundraising started off with golf tournaments.
The couple has always fundraised on their own. Recently, an organization called LoveIAM has helped the group raise money by hosting annual galas.
Majetich said the student volunteers gain as much from the experience as the campers themselves. They also get the opportunity to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city and gain medical experience from the doctors and nurses who are also with the campers. Rebecca Atherton, a former camper who became a counselor, said that the camp is one of the best support systems for the children and to be a part of that experience to make them feel normal for a week is life-changing.
“I have something called a keloid scar which means my skin over-heals, so my scar is very raised and bumpy and bright pink,” Atherton said. “When I was about 13-14 years old I met a counselor who also had a keloid scar. She told me she was always embarrassed or scared of her scar and for a long time she wore shirts that hid her scar.
And she told me that it was so reassuring and amazing that someone who was my age showed my scar.” “Even though we had different ways of dealing with this, it was one of the most emotional moments I had at camp. I remember that we just held each other and we cried like a good solid five minutes,” Atherton added.
Atherton said society puts pressure on women to be perfect and she learned from this experience that having a flaw is nothing to be ashamed of. This is among the reasons, she said, she decided to go from a camper to a counselor when she grew up. “Camp is one of the best support systems out there for children who have congenital heart disease and to be a part of that and to know that you get five days with them, and get to change their whole world.
Not very many people get to say in five days I changed a little kid’s life,” Atherton said.
Participating in programs such as this is an opportunity for MCC students to accumulate volunteer hours and earn money for school.
Duane Oakes, director of MCC Civil Engagement office, is encouraging students to “seize the day” when it comes to their scholarship opportunities.
MCC gives away $500 in scholarships to students who complete more than 100 hours of community service.
“We have hundreds of different opportunities that are listed [on our website] that students can use to build their volunteering portfolios for their scholarships,” Oakes said. To learn more about the Heart Camp program, visit nickandkelleyfund.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org. After learning about the program go register to be a counselor at http://app.campdoc.com/register/nkchc.