For our campers and families, Camp Korey isn’t just a place to visit; it’s a home away from home that campers look forward to all year. Many of our campers return to us stronger, braver and ready for new opportunities, including becoming mentors for a new generation of campers.
Abigail McNair, 18, has traveled for the last 7 years from Texas with her family to visit Camp. “Years ago my mom heard about a camp in Seattle that was hosting a Mito week, the first Mito week in all of the US,” states Abigail.
The McNair family, mom Heather, dad Michael, and siblings Chance, Maddy, and Abigail all traveled up that first summer to attend Camp Korey. All three children have mitochondrial disease. “Mito affects every part of your body,” explains Abigail, “Your mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell…it converts everything into energy.” According to the Mitochondrial Research Guild, mitochondria are responsible for creating more than 90% of the energy needed by the body to sustain life and support growth. When they fail, less and less energy is generated within the cell. “It really affects everyone different, and even among the three of us.”
Family and friends pitched in together that first summer to send the family of 5 up to Seattle, covering the cost of flying and for a hotel. “We got to Camp Korey and it really was nothing else we ever experienced. We never met anyone over the age of 8 that had Mito – it was still such a new disease that was just in the early stages of being diagnosed,” states Abigail. “We get there and we see all these teenagers and how they manage and what they could do… it was amazing. It was a great feeling to know you are not alone in this.”
Several years later Abigail followed in her siblings’ footsteps, graduating from a camper to an LIT (Leader in Training). “Being an LIT – it’s completely different than being a camper. You get to help these kids have the same amazing experience as you did. It’s incredible– I am helping them do what they want, to have the best time ever at Camp Korey.” Abigail also enjoyed the behind the scenes look at Camp, learning about all the pieces that go into making the Camp experience possible. “Camp Korey has given me a lot more confidence in who I am. I’m really open about my medical condition, and the kids love it. It’s something that I learned at Camp Korey and it has carried outside of camp. Whether I am in my wheelchair or hooked up to oxygen, or my GTube.” Abigail credits her time as an LIT with enhancing her leadership skills that she has gained over the years as a volunteer elsewhere. “As an LIT I was able to lead people down the best path possible.”
Josh Simon, Residential Life Coordinator at Camp Korey also manages our leadership program, and witnesses the growth of campers when they take on the responsibility of a mentor at Camp. “I saw Abigail grow a lot in one week at camp,” states Josh. “She took on a leadership role through the program and became a role model for others. She was always ready to take on a new challenge and spread her love of camp with staff and other campers. I think Abigail was really able to shine and she gained new experiences that will stay with her forever.”
For Abigail, Camp Korey will stay with her. She knows that no matter what, she will never experience the epic food fights like those at Camp, or witness moments where someone accomplishes something new for the very first time. “Figuring out what I wanted to do with my life after high school – I have a lot passions – love the arts….but I wasn’t sure if that was what I wanted to do. Then through Camp Korey I realized I wanted to do something that has to do with kids with medical conditions. To help them have a fulfilled life, that is one of the best things Camp Korey has given me.” Like most of our families, the McNair family has embraced the Camp Korey culture, taking lessons learned home with them to Texas. “We all know the camp cheers; it’s really our favorite thing. And the warm fuzzies, I have all my warm fuzzies in a drawer. When you are having a really difficult day, you can pull one out and it’s just made one hundred times better.”
Camp Korey continues to expand and grow programs that meet the needs of our campers. For several years Camp operated a traditional Leaders in Training (LIT) program, a chance for alumni campers to grow stronger in leadership development. Building Leaders Out of Camp Korey (BLOCK) Program is replacing our current LIT program in 2016, with bigger and better opportunities. Campers ages 16 and 17 have the opportunity to not only mentor younger campers during the summer, but will participate in a variety of BLOCK-only programming including hands on skill building workshops, exciting year-round day programs for continued growth, and special BLOCK only camp adventures. BLOCK will grow from 8 campers in 2015 to 24 campers in 2016, accommodating a larger pool of campers and conditions.
Find out more about the BLOCK Program!