Centre students help dreams come true at the Center for Courageous Kids
By Leigh Ivey
At the Center for Courageous Kids in Scottsville, Ky., however, den counselors do just this. And Centre College is extremely well represented among these counselors.
"Centre students have an amazing reputation for stepping up and volunteering when needed," says Ali Lindon '08, who has been active at CCK since its opening in February 2008. "From that first group of Centre Bonners who went to camp before it even opened to the latest crew to work for the summer 2009 season, Centre students have helped to shape CCK into what it is today."
(Bonners are members of the national Bonner Foundation, a program that engages students in service and civic work to strengthen their communities.)
A 164-acre, state-of-the-art medical camp, CCK was designed to provide a "normal" camp experience for seriously ill and disabled children who otherwise would not be able to enjoy such an adventure.
"We prescribe fun," CCK promises, and they offer this fun at no cost to the camper. A not-for-profit organization, the center is financed through the generosity of its founder (Elizabeth Turner Campbell), its staff, its Board of Directors, several health partners, the local community, businesses and individuals.
The camp is open year-round and offers two distinct programs. During the 22 family weekend retreats, family members of the ill camper participate in various activities with him or her. Volunteers, including numerous Centre students, spend these weekends leading activities and interacting with the campers and their families.
During the nine summer sessions (week-long segments composed of campers with a specific medical condition), den counselors are without the assistance of the campers' families.
The life of a den counselor is filled with activity. From early morning until long past sunset, these staff members must keep pace with energetic children. Yet, as Sarah Jennings '11 says, "the lack of sleep and contact with the outside world are totally worth making a difference in a child's life. There's no greater feeling."
Matt Cocanougher '08, who has volunteered at CKK during a week-long summer session and several family weekends, has nothing but praise for the center.
"It's amazing how CCK creates an atmosphere that allows campers to forget about their medical issues," he says. "Instead, they concentrate on riding horses, winning an ongoing food fight, and perfecting dance moves before and after meals."
Lindon agrees that the center is an extraordinary place. "It's fantastic that the children can step out of their everyday lives of medicine and doctors' office visits and just be kids. The campers make lasting friendships with other kids who are just like them, and it really is magical to watch that unfold."
At CCK, the children participate in common camp activities like boating, fishing, swimming, creating arts and crafts, cooking, woodworking, horseback riding and playing music.
Not every activity, though, is so traditional.
"Each week we have an all-camp activity called Messy Games, which is pretty much a giant food fight," Jennings says. "It's always one of the highlights of my week. Kids are never told that it's actually okay to get disgustingly dirty and throw food, so when you explain the rules to them for the first time, their eyes just light up and you know that this memory will never leave them."
Spending 10 weeks together in such an intimate, life-changing setting has created a special bond between the counselors from Centre.
"My friends at camp are the closest friends I have," Jennings says. "When a group of people is there for selfless reasons, you grow so much closer to one another. When you're back at Centre, you may not see all the people from camp nonstop, but when you do see them, a moment is shared."
Sarah Couch '09 shares this sentiment. "I respect those from Centre who worked and volunteered at camp a lot because I know the sacrifice and commitment they made to come to camp. I've also been able to see them grow in phenomenal ways and to become more confidant in their abilities to work with some of the most amazing kids I've ever met."
Although the counselors are often flooded with praise and gratitude for their work with the children, they truly believe that they are the ones who are rewarded by the experience.
"From working at the camp," Jennings says, "I've learned to be more caring, more patient, more loving. I've learned to live in the moment and to truly appreciate the little things in life. I've learned that someone average like me can actually make a difference in the lives of others. Camp has completely changed me for the better."
Jordan Fitch '12 agrees that working at CCK has changed him. "I've learned so much during this unforgettable summer," he says, "but I'd say the most valuable thing is to live in the moment and never hold anything back. These kids taught me to remain aware of everything that I've been blessed with in my life."
Having been a den counselor for the past three summers (and a volunteer during several family weekends), Couch perhaps knows best how special the Center for Courageous Kids truly is.
"I think the best life lesson from camp is that we all need to find something we love to do," she says. "And making kids laugh out loud or look at you in amazement because at camp it's okay and encouraged to eat spaghetti with just your face—no utensils—can be one of the most rewarding experiences. Life should have a little more play in it, and for a week we are able to provide that to kids. This might be the only place where that's possible."
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Founded in 1819, Centre College is ranked among the U.S. News top 50 national liberal arts colleges. Consumers Digest ranks Centre No. 1 in educational value among all U.S. liberal arts colleges. Centre alumni, known for their nation-leading loyalty in annual financial support, include two U.S. vice presidents and two Supreme Court justices. For more, visit http://www.centre.edu/web/elevatorspeech/
For news archives go to http://www.centre.edu/web/news/newsarchive.html.
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