Michigan summer camp for kids with health challenges goes virtual to kick off season

Spring Family Camp-At-Home is Friday, April 24

North Star Reach Camp VIP Care Package (2020)

DETROIT – North Star Reach is a community partner of Local4 and was featured on Tech Time in the summer of 2019.

Their website says it best: Their mission is to provide “life-changing camp experiences for children with serious health challenges and their families, free of charge.” Those serious health challenges are not always fatal but definitely require round-the-clock care and treatment to prevent increased pain or death.

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Henry Family

So this camp makes campers and their families are more than appreciative. The Gauger Family says, “We made the decision to send Gavin to a summer camp, but a very special summer camp. A camp where he would get to spend a week with kids just like him, that have a sibling with a congenital heart disease or transplant.”

The novel coronavirus is spreading resources thin for campers who were already dealing with their respective ailments long before its first infection in 2019.

“We are aware that our camper families are affected by the coronavirus crisis in many significant ways, including reduced access to medical supplies and other healthcare resources, such as therapy and medical treatments provided in clinical settings,” said Doug Armstrong, North Star Reach’s CEO, Founder and Registered Nurse.

The organization is founded, staffed and populated with dedicated people who are already in the medical profession. These doctors, nurses, medical technicians and volunteers are pulling double duty with the coronavirus. North Star Reach’s Medical Director Dr. Rebecca Patrias says, “We are expanding the way we care for our patients through telehealth options. The sense that we are all in this together is more in the forefront of practicing medicine now than during ‘normal’ times. I believe this can strengthen our relationships.”

In addition North Star workers and volunteers still and to help campers have a summer camp experience this year. Campers and their families want to help each other achieve the same goal.

Before North Star Reach Camp, an average summer day camp experience (let alone even one night of an overnight camp experience) was out of the question. After North Star Reach, summer camp, including overnights, became a reality and gave these children (from elementary school-level to high school-level) a normal summer and a normal summer camp experience. It included swimming, arts & crafts, archery, canoeing and campfires.

Spring Family Camp is an annual April event that is a meet-n-greet for veteran campers and their families to reconnect and for new ones to meet face-to-face. Now, in the COVID-19 era, the 2020 Spring Family Camp is canceled, at least in person.

North Star Reach is adapting and transforming the Spring Family Camp to the Spring Family Camp-At-Home. It takes place Friday, April 24.

“The upcoming spring family “camp-at-home” experiences are exclusively for families caring for children with complex medical needs, including those with congenital heart disorders and a palliative care diagnosis, who previously registered for our onsite programs,” said Ami Walsh, North Star Reach Communications Director. Campers and families are still enthusiastic about participating. The Henry Family is new to North Star Reach and says, "We can’t wait to join in the fun … even if it is at home instead of at camp. Let’s just say our first year will be memorable lol.”

The camp is located in Livingston County and serves children and their families from all over Michigan.

“Our team sent 44 families across Michigan ‘VIP Care Packages’ stocked with creative and educational activities, camp T-shirts, and resources to support the upcoming weekend experiences. Live online events have been designed to build a community where families can feel a sense of belonging and share their stories with one another," said Walsh.

The Gauger Family received the gift parcel. They were delighted and said something to which everyone can relate. “This package was a complete surprise, and (we) may have cried a little. The toilet paper gave us a good laugh too!”

The Henry Family had similar feelings when they saw items related to the camp’s fun activities. Surprised and elated, the parent’s thank you said of their daughter, “Tiffany has been practicing for no-hands spaghetti so she knew exactly what that jar of spaghetti sauce was for lol. She was also absolutely thrilled to get a s’mores bar and her T-shirt. She ate it immediately and won’t take her camp shirt off.” Their note culminated with this, in part, “Thank you for taking the time to do this for our amazing kiddos. You are phenomenal! Looking forward to seeing you all (via the net)!”

Not all families have access to the internet. Not to worry - everyone is included.

“To support families who are unable connect online, our team will make ‘wellness calls’ to help ease the sense of isolation and stress they are facing during this healthcare crisis, as well as to see if there are other ways we can offer support (this might include food deliveries, identifying supply needs, etc.).”

If there is a blessing in disguise for COVID19, it’s that the new and old technology and tools of communication being used by North Star Reach and its campers and families now will have a place in the future, after the coronavirus crisis.

A North Star Reach official said they intend to host a Family Care Conference this fall, which may rely on many of the video conferencing and networking tools they are putting in place now.

If there is one thing COVID-19 has brought out in North Star Reach and its campers and families, it’s their determination to meet and to beat any challenge, which the children have been doing all their lives.

For more information about North Star Reach, including April’s Spring Family Camp-At-Home, virtual summer camp activities, introducing new campers and their families, volunteering or donating, can click here.

For more Tech Time segments, go here.