Kids living with muscular dystrophy are able to experience a real summer camp at the Massachusetts Hospital School in Canton, swimming, horseback riding and playing basketball with their peers, all tailored to their abilities.
Fifty-one weeks a year, the kids at Camp Florian are the “kids with disabilities,” told to slow down, be careful, not to hurt themselves.
But for a week each summer at the Massachusetts Hospital School in Canton, they’re just like their fellow campers, each living with a form of muscular dystrophy, and each spending the days swimming, horseback riding and playing basketball, just like any other camp.
“It’s a chance for them to experience a summer camp, to get together with kids with similar disabilities. Friendships are born here,” Mass. Hospital summer camp supervisor Ray Jackman said of the program, run by the Muscular Dystrophy Association,
Jackman said many of the campers are alone in their communities, the only kids with disabilities they know of.
“When they come here, they’re just another kid,” he said.
Everything is geared toward their abilities, from the ramp lowering them into the swimming pool, to the easily accessible horse riding area.
Camper Garrett Haydon, 12, was at his second camp, and spent the week enjoying the pool.
“I thought it was great this year,” the Sudbury soon-to-be seventh-grader said.
Sixty campers will spend a week overnight at the camp. Kids age 6 to 13 spent the last week there, and the 14- to 21-year-old age group will be there next week.
Part of the camp’s carnival-themed “VIP Night,” which was held Wednesday, is a visit from the Worcester chapter of the Harley-Davidson Owners Group.
The HOGs brought 33 bikes to the camp, including several with sidecars to give the campers a ride, something they’ve done for the past 20 years.
Joan “Gram” Caldarella, 76, has been coming to MDA camps for 20 years with the HOGs.
“It’s one of our greatest rides of the year,” the grandmother of five said. “Just to see the smiles on the kids’ faces is payment enough for the ride out here.”
Caldarella, who has logged more than 100,000 miles on her bike, said the campers usually give her a high-five and a thumbs-up as they ride around the campus.
“They smile every bit of the way,” she said.
Sending a child with MD to camp for a week costs about $800, with money raised through telethons, fundraisers and firefighters’ Fill the Boot campaign.
There are about 200 camps like Camp Florian across the country.
Singer Billy Gilman, a Rhode Island native, has been the MDA’s national youth chairman for the past six years. This was his fifth time visiting the Canton camp.
“These kids have so much to battle, and yet they still keep smiling,” he said. “It teaches me to shut up and be thankful.”
Health services coordinator Mary Leeman, who has been with MDA for 15 years, said the campers are free to do whatever they want during the “best week of the year.”
“They can ride horses, swim, do arts and crafts, go on field trips,” she said. “Nothing is stopping them.”
Reach Allison Manning at firstname.lastname@example.org.