The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp

For the Body and the Soul

Posted on by Jimmy Canton, CEO

You can imagine the reaction from my parents when I told them I was changing my major from international relations to an interdisciplinary humanities study called modern thought and literature. “How is that going to possibly help you in your career?”  I recall they used more flowery language than that.  Well, as I pen my first blog, I can say with peaceful contentment that it has helped me in my career – more specifically it has offered me a lens that guides me as I share The Hole in the Wall Gang’ Camp’s story, assess our effectiveness and imagine new services consistent with our mission. 

Camp has confirmed for me time and time again, what the 19th century Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard believed - that we are a synthesis of both the finite and the infinite – the body and the spirit.  How else do you explain the joy that can emanate from a child who is gravely ill, the determination to climb a 40' tower with one leg, or the courage to fight multiple relapses? 

The infinite - our spirit - needs to be nourished as much as our finite self.  Healing the spirit - feeding the infinite part of the children in our care - is what Camp does best and what our Founder Paul Newman called, "a different kind of healing". 

A serious illness can have as punishing an impact on a child's emotional & spiritual well being as it can on their physical body.  Illness separates children from peers and can set them adrift at a time when they most need to feel connected.  Research, coming most recently from the Yale Child Study Center, tells us that isolation undermines resilience, which contributes to worsening health, leading to further isolation and more sickness.  It's a vicious downward spiral.  Camp steps in to break that cycle by creating a safe place where friendships can be formed and confidence restored.  Leaving Camp with increased social competence contributes to greater peer inclusion, which contributes to better health, which can lead to membership in a stronger community, and the positive effects continue to build. 

"You returned to me the child I knew before her diagnosis. Her spark is back.  How did you do it?"  Over the last 28 years, I have heard that sentiment time and time again from our camper parents.  Certainly, our foremost concern is to keep our children physically safe, which means medically supported by a team of exceptional physicians and nurses. However, as a staff that is primarily non-medical, the heart of Camp's work is tending to a child's emotional needs – their infinite selves.  Creating an environment of acceptance, affirmation, celebration, camaraderie, tenderness, and a good amount of mischievous play reminds our children that they are SO MUCH MORE THAN THEIR ILLNESS.  Spirits previously ravaged by isolation and self-doubt experience the healing balm of friendship and laughter.  At Camp, there is strength in numbers, encouragement to participate in activities that once seemed impossible, the realization that sharing an illness can be the catalyst to develop a lifelong bond with a new friend.  The curse of illness can be flipped on its head and seen as the portal for these many healing experiences.  How empowering and freeing. 

“This is the great error of our day, that physicians separate the soul from the body.  The cure should not be attempted without the treatment of the whole, and no attempt should be made to cure the body without the soul.”  That could have been said by Dr. Oz, the Pope or Søren Kierkegaard, but it’s attributed to Plato nearly 2,500 years ago.  This is why I know without any doubt that the Camp experience is not just valuable; it is ESSENTIAL in the continued recovery of the children in our care.  Clearly and thankfully, western medicine continues to save countless lives.  However, the experiences that Camp provides complements today’s medical approaches and leaves a child battling a serious illness with a much greater chance for true, whole health – physical and emotional.