Going to summer camp is a dream for many kids – it's a time to get away and just have fun. But imagine having a medical condition that makes that dream impossible. That's where a special camp in Northern Illinois is making a lifelong difference for kids.
Camp Blackhawk is a week-long retreat in Ingleside for kids with epilepsy -- a neurological disorder that causes seizures which makes it impossible for those kids to attend typical summer camp. But during this week, they can just be themselves, leaving behind the unfair stigmas often attached to people with epilepsy and allowing them to take part in those activities that summer was made to enjoy. Here, no one is different.
"To provide the opportunity for these kids to come to a summer camp to just have fun, to zipline, to swim, to shoot bows and arrows and to do all the lake activities that they're doing, it's just heartwarming to see what they're able to do," says Epilepsy Foundation of Greater Chicago CEO Kurt Florian.
Today, the campers with the cleanest cabin got to spray down their counselors as a reward.
"It's really upsetting in a way that I can't do anything to control it, yet everyone is judging me for it so I feel like that's why a lot of people with epilepsy kinda tend to separate themselves or try to like hide their epilepsy or aren't open about it as much as I am," says camp lifeguard Erin Vander Pas. "I can't think of anything else I would want to do, I'm having the time of my life here."
Around Chicagoland there are an estimated 130,000 people with epilepsy and nearly 3 million in the U.S. Epilepsy is the fourth most common neurological disorder.
The Epilepsy Foundation of Greater Chicago, which provides this camp at no cost to families, is trying to change people's attitudes towards those who suffer from the disorder.
"They're just like everybody else, in terms of what they can do what they can't do, in terms of their mental capabilities," Florian explains. "There's really no difference between a person with epilepsy and anyone else."
Erin knows that by being open about her epilepsy, she can give courage to others; even young campers that remind her of herself.
"I feel like I'm kinda changing the world a little bit, just one person's world, maybe more, but I feel like I'm really helping out with what I can do and that's just an amazing feeling," Vander Pas says.
Kurt Florian, the president and CEO of the Epilepsy Foundation of Greater Chicago says he has a waiting list for campers and is hoping if more families sign up for Camp Blackhawk, he can offer a second week of camp next summer.
For information on the Epilepsy Foundation of Greater Chicago, click here.
This year's camp registration is full. To be placed on the mailing list for next year's Camp Blackhawk email firstname.lastname@example.org.