"As my brother's wife, who is a pediatrician, says, it’s amazing ‘to see kids step outside their diagnoses.’"
Eric Boyer, Ph.D., Saint Martin’s University assistant professor of education and director of the Secondary Teaching Alternate Route (STAR) program, serves as a camp counselor at the Seattle Children's Stanley Stamm Summer Camp and as a member of the camp’s board of directors. Last summer, three Saint Martin’s students—Nicole Wesley, Fatima Scotto-Rodriguez and Mackenzie Liddick—joined Boyer and volunteered at the camp.
As Eric Boyer, Ph.D., assistant professor of education, tells it, his grandfather, Stanley Stamm, a pediatric cardiologist at Seattle Children’s Hospital, had an epiphany after talking to some of his patients in the mid-1960s. “His patients and his patients’ families told him they didn't feel like they had a lot of opportunity to go camping, or go to the beach, or go hiking,” Boyer says. “And so, he thought maybe they could have a little cookout, or a camping trip, or spend a weekend together. He invited a few families of his patients and they made some s'mores and hung out. Then he had a moment where he thought, ‘Why can't this be a thing?’"
In 1967, the first official Stamm Summer Camp was held with the mission to give children with chronic and complex medical conditions the chance to enjoy the quintessential summer camp experience: cabins, campfire sing-a-longs, swimming, arts and crafts, horseback riding and fishing. And, of course, s’mores.
Fifty years later, the camp, now known as the Seattle Children’s Stanley Stamm Summer Camp, has grown to provide a week-long overnight experience for around 100 children between the ages of six and 14. The camp, held every summer at Sunset Lake Camp near the base of Mount Rainier, is free for all campers, with expenses paid for by philanthropic donations from individuals and the families of campers, endowment income and fundraising events. In addition to the campers, approximately 200 to 250 volunteers—including pediatricians, nurses and other medical professionals—help out as counselors and activity supervisors.
“It's amazing to see in five days the bonds that are formed, the relationships,” Boyer says. “As my brother's wife, who is a pediatrician, says, it’s amazing ‘to see kids step outside their diagnoses.’ The idea that they live 24/7 in this thing called Down syndrome, or autism, or cerebral palsy, or whatever. They constantly have to walk around with this label following them, and at the camp it doesn't exist—there, they're just a kid going down a water slide.”
Boyer has been involved with the camp for most of his life. He started volunteering as a counselor at the camp when he was 17. Besides his grandfather, his mother and father were also volunteers and his older brother and an older cousin served as counselors before him and continue to do so. In addition to serving as a cabin counselor for the senior boys age group (ages 12 to 14), he shares emcee duties and serves on the camp’s board of directors.
“As a counselor, I’m just spending five days reliving that rambunctious, ridiculous humor that comes with the 12, 13 and 14-year-old life,” Boyer says, smiling. “I think seeing an adult figure having fun is different for the campers—an adult shooting a water gun, playing Candyland and just being kind of a free spirit. [As] opposed to what they typically see, which is either a teacher who's trying to be serious, or possibly a psychologist depending on their affliction, or the doctor who was once again reminding them of what's wrong with them. So the camp counselor role has always been fun.”
As a member of the camp’s board of directors, Boyer also recruits volunteers. Last year, he found three capable and enthusiastic camp volunteers in Saint Martin’s students Fatima Scotto-Rodriguez, Mackenzie Liddick and Nicole Wesley. All three spent the whole week at the camp, in different capacities: Scotto-Rodriguez was in charge of the music room and helped out with one of the girls’ cabins; Liddick helped supervise the tie-dye station within the arts and crafts room; and Wesley was a one-on-one counselor for one of the camp attendees.
Scotto-Rodriguez, a graduate student in the master’s program in teaching, used her experience as a teacher in her role with the camp’s music sessions. “I worked with the kids playing songs, dancing and singing with them. Since I teach secondary education, I know what music they listen to, so I came prepped with an iPod full of music,” she says. “So when the campers came in I would put the music on and have a dance-fest. And that was even more entertaining to them than singing.”
Liddick, a rising junior and elementary education major, spoke about how much fun she had working with campers. “Growing up, I spent my days with my younger special-needs sister, so when Dr. Boyer mentioned the Stamm Camp, I couldn’t help but get excited to volunteer,” she says. “Helping the campers tie up their shirts and slowly walk them through the process, learning about their favorite colors and making their vision come to life—that was rewarding.”
While the campers enjoy a week of fun activities at the picturesque camp, there’s another group that benefits as well—the campers’ parents. As Boyer explained, many campers’ families spend much of their time caring for and working with their children, and the camp gives them a chance to take a break, secure in the knowledge that their children are in good hands. Liddick witnessed this firsthand. “My little sister, Emily, was only introduced to the camp last year,” she says. “Stamm Camp gives my sister a week to engage in camp activities and meet friends from all around Washington, something she’s never been offered. It also gives my mom a chance to have some time to herself. My mom spends all day, every day with Emily, so it’s nice for her to have some time to spend with her husband. Last year, they had their first date together in over 10 years!”
Boyer mentioned many volunteers have come back year after year because of their devotion to the camp and the community formed by campers, volunteers, family members and others. Says Boyer, “Basically anybody over age 18 or older can volunteer, but we want volunteers who really want to be a part of this.”
“I think people should know about the love everyone has for each other at the camp,” shares Scotto-Rodriguez. “You have many different people from different walks of life coming together for that one week for this one purpose—which is to make this kid's life happy. I feel like everyone should go to the camp, at least one summer. Because you just watch these kids, and then you see that one smile and you're like, ‘That's it, that's why I came here.’”
Learn more about how to volunteer or support Seattle Children’s Stanley Stamm Summer Camp at the camp’s official website.