Where special kids have special experiences
Camp director David Hudnall in front of Rafe Pond
Nine-year-old Bella from Cambridge has had 43 medical procedures and over 400 in-patient stays at Boston Children’s Hospital since her birth. She used to be completely wheelchair-bound, but this year she is actually walking, which makes her stay at Dream Day on Cape Cod in Brewster a much different experience than previous years, explained her mother, Marlene.
“This is an amazing place,” Marlene said. “Bella just loves it here. She is so content. We call it our Dream Day family. The counselors are so supportive. We meet other families and we understand each other’s stories. After we leave here we connect through email and Facebook and keep that community alive. We see all the families’ progress and if they’re going through something where they need backup support when we leave here, we’re there for each other.”
Dream Day is a 23-year-old camp that is dedicated to helping children with serious or life-threatening illnesses experience a week of fun, nature and comradery at their 17-acre camp adjacent to Nickerson State Park. They have eight cabins that house up to six people and unlike other children’s camps, the whole family joins in.
The cabins are nestled in woods dotted with hammocks for relaxing or swinging. A large field has been cleared for games. Up a slight hill, a handicap-accessible playground offers a charming playhouse, swings and other toys. A huge tent covers picnic tables where the morning arts and crafts have been left to dry. Bella and her mother were sitting at a table playing the game Chutes and Ladders with a camp counselor.
A camper and her family relax on the floating dock at Rafe Pond
“It’s a place for families to get away from hospitals, doctors’ offices and lab work to make good memories,” said camp director David Hudnall. “We’ve got archery, arts and crafts, fishing, boating, campfires, songs, skits, field games and sports. If you did it at summer camp, we do it here.”
The camp has a mess hall that serves three meals a day. Each day of the week, there are organized activities, but families can also choose to do their own thing if they prefer. It’s their vacation.
“We try really hard to adapt as many of the activities as we can to the varying ability levels of our campers,” Hudnall said. “If we have something that’s very active, we always try to also have something that is very relaxed. Some of our campers have low energy and they can’t be running all the time, so we want to have something for them to do.”
It costs about $2,100 a week for a family to stay at Dream Day, but they don’t pay a thing. The camp is funded by grants, corporate and private donations and fundraisers like the upcoming Dream Day Open Scramble Golf Tournament on September 18 at The Ridge Club in Sandwich. They raised $127,000 at their 14th Annual Tour da Cape bike race in June and over $17,000 at their Cape Cod Bass & Bluefish Tournament in July.
In addition to paying scholarships for campers and their families, the money raised goes to improve the camp so that it can better meet the needs of its population. Recent improvements include paved paths which make it easier for those in wheelchairs and a very popular wheelchair swing.
“We put in larger docks so that we could accommodate wheelchairs on the water,” Hudnall said. “We have adaptive kayaks at the pond as well with full lumbar supports. We also have stabilizing pontoons so they’re tandem so mom and child or dad and child can go out together.”
This year the camp’s board of directors also created a small group centered on community outreach and wellness programing. Cape Cod Hospital operating room nurse Paige Churchill Boyle has been on the board for over five years and is part of the subcommittee. She helped plan a two-day wellness fair on August 8 and 9.
A teacher from Calmer Choice will come to teach the families mindfulness awareness and how to control their emotions with deep breathing. Registered dietician and nutritionist Nicole Cormier who owns Delicious Living Nutrition will teach the families about healthy eating. Cape Cod Hospital operating room nurse Deb McCullough Hopkins will also be on hand to teach yoga therapy.
“Even though they are only here for a week, we want to help the families while they are here by bringing some positive healing modalities that they can take home with them,” Boyle said.
To apply to Dream Day, visit their website and either fill in the online application or print it and mail it. The camp runs for eight weeks in the summer, but they also do off-season events for Dream Day Cape and Islands families.