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By Samantha Skobel
This summer my life was changed by a tiny little 7-year-old camper who hugged me and told me I smelled like a campfire.
I knew that teaching at school, I was going to have a few months off and I wanted to do something meaningful. I wanted to have my big adventure this summer at a place where I mattered.
In the last year, I was diagnosed with epilepsy. I was hoping to find a way to make my struggle worth going through by sharing what I’ve learned and the skills I’ve gained. I was doing what anyone in that situation would do: Googling. I stumbled across Camp Discovery, a camp run by the Michigan branch of the Epilepsy Foundation. I called the Epilepsy Foundation and they told me they no longer ran the camp, that it had become a part of North Star Reach, a camp that services with kids with a number of serious medical challenges, not just epilepsy.
I spent the last three months as North Star Reach’s nature specialist. I worked Transplant Camp, Cardio Camp, Epilepsy Camp, Sickle Cell Camp, Teen Camp, and Sibling Camp.
Every time someone asks how camp was, I say “life changing.” Naturally, people ask why. I don’t have a succinct answer. The summer wasn’t life changing in a way I can outline in a few words in passing conversation. It is a million little stories, magic moments, and kids who realized they were competent, kids who did activities they would never have the chance to do otherwise, kids who realized they weren’t alone.
This summer changed my life when a 7-year-old during Transplant Camp told me that the crack down the floor of his cabin made it look like the cabin had a new liver just like him.
This summer changed my life when I saw kids at the pool confident enough to have their shirts off while swimming and compare their transplant scars with one another.
This summer changed my life when I helped a girl who was paralyzed on the left side of her body shoot a bow and arrow for the first time.
This summer changed my life when I told a 16-year-old camper that she could teach special education and have epilepsy, just like I do.
This summer changed my life when four tiny campers during Cardiology Camp tackled me and rubbed shaving cream all over my hair.
This summer changed my life when I explained to a camper that adults can have seizures too, even though seizures are scary, and she didn’t think grown-ups got scared.
This summer changed my life when I learned about Sickle Cell Disease, something I had never experienced or worked with in my life and was able to begin to understand the experience of a group of individuals.
This summer changed my life when the campers from the cabin I was with during Sickle Cell Camp ran halfway up a hill to give me a huge group hug, because they hadn’t seen me in an hour.
This summer changed my life when the campers had me tell them bedtime stories I made up on the spot and yelled from their beds hysterically laughing that there weren’t enough puppies, there weren’t enough unicorns and I never said “the end”, so I had to start over.
This summer changed my life when I met twin campers who came during two different weeks of camp and I got the opportunity to see them as two different kids with their own personalities and their own unique identities.
This summer changed my life when I got to see siblings of children with serious medical challenges have their moment in the spotlight and their moment to not worry about their sibling but just to be at camp and have fun.
This summer changed my life in every campfire, in every bug we caught, in every hug I got, in every scraped knee, every bee sting, every ache and pain and seizure, every curious question, every hike through the woods, every hour in the beautiful Michigan sun, every canoe ride down the river, every drawing that a camper made just for me, every friendship bracelet and keychain, every little moment that I saw in a camper’s eyes that they knew they were special and they knew they were here for a reason.
I went to camp this year and it changed my life. I learned what it means to see a child feel competent and feel proud of themselves, sometimes for the first time. I gained leadership skills that I may not have found anywhere else, because of the support I had from the other staff and from the directors of the camp. I was able to discover true connection with nature, with my fellow staff, with individual campers, with myself, and with God. I had the time and space to feel truly grounded and truly myself. I felt special, I felt wanted. I grew as a person this summer. I touched lives and was touched by others.
Samantha Skobel was a member of our Seasonal Activity Staff and led our Nature program. A native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Samantha graduated from Allegheny College, where she received her BS in Neuroscience and minored in dance.
Join us for an evening of storytelling Tuesday, August 27, from 7-8 p.m., at Ann Arbor’s Literati Bookstore as 2019 teen campers share stories about the impact camp has had on their lives. The event is open to the public, and we hope our program and medical volunteers, camper families and North Star Reach supporters will join us and cheer on our campers as they share moving personal stories.
Literati is located at 124 E. Washington, in downtown Ann Arbor. There are several parking structures, as well as street parking, available near the bookstore. You can read more about the bookstore and our event on the Literati website.
Sydney St. Amour, 16, will be a senior at Chelsea High School this fall. A heart transplant recipient as an infant, she has attended Camp Michitanki/North Star Reach for the past nine summers, and is planning on returning as a counselor. She has raised over $5,000 for Camp through an annual bake sale she started in 7th grade. She enjoys theatre and loves to watch sci-fi films. Her future plans include studying public relations as her major and lots of traveling.
Marisa Hamet, 16, will be a junior at Flat Rock Community High School this fall, where she will enter the Health Occupations program. A liver transplant recipient, she received her gift of life 15 years ago at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. She plans to pursue her dream of becoming a pediatric physician when she enters college in two years. For the past nine summers, she has attended the University of Michigan Transplant Center’s Camp Michitanki (which is now part of North Star Reach) and plans to return as a camp counselor. She enjoys participating in Church and school activities and spending time with her friends. In addition, she’s an avid reader—bookstores are her favorite place on Earth (next to camp!).
Zoey Hinz, 16, is a junior at Warren Mott High School. A longtime camper at Camp Michitanki/North Star Reach, she was also the poster child for the University of Michigan’s Galens Medical Society Tag Days fundraiser in 2009, when she was six. She loves to play video games, draw and spend time with her dog Marley and her two pet rats. She also loves to ride horses when she can. She is thinking about being a camp counselor and would like to work with animals when she gets older.
Anna Laschiazza, 17, is a senior at Minooka Community High School in Illinois. A liver transplant recipient as an infant, she has attended Camp Michitanki/North Star Reach the past nine summers. She plays travel softball in her free time and really enjoys painting and being outside. She loves summer camp and plans to return as a counselor once she’s old enough. Her future plans include going to college and traveling the world.
Skyler Moomey, 17, is a senior at Zeeland West High School in Michigan. He has attended North Star Reach the past two summers and hopes to return as a counselor. In his spare time, he enjoys playing basketball. In the future, he wants to start his own business. He also hopes to continue speaking publicly about living with epilepsy.
Laine Richards, 17, is a senior at East Grand Rapids High School. She attended North Star Reach’s “Summer Solstice” teen camp for the first time this summer. She is also an alumnus of the Epilepsy Foundation of Michigan’s “Camp Discovery,” which she attended for three summers. Passionate about advocating for epilepsy awareness, she has raised more than $20,000 for the Epilepsy Foundation of Michigan, lobbied on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. for the last three years as part of Teens Speak Up, participated in press conferences at the state capitol in Lansing advocating for epilepsy causes, spoken at several Foundation events and has conducted multiple media interviews. She is also passionate about working with special needs children and has done so in her school district for the last five years. She hopes to attend Michigan State University next year, where she’ll major in Special Education. In her spare time, she loves to read, travel and play with her German Shepherd dog, Hazel.
Dominic Weber, 17, is a senior at the International Academy West Campus in White Lake Township, Michigan. Born with a congenital heart condition, he was fortunate to have first attended a medically-supported camp before North Star Reach opened, through a program called “Camp on the Move,” which allowed him travel to another SeriousFun Children’s Network camp in North Carolina when he was 11 and 12. He has attended North Star Reach the past four summers and hopes to serve as a counselor in the future. In addition, he’s very active in Scouts and is currently working toward achieving Eagle Scout Rank. He also loves music, plays piano every Sunday with his church choir, and enjoys skiing and water sports. He plans to pursue a career in biomedical engineering and hopes to help develop medical devices and techniques so others may benefit, as he has, from advancements in medical technology.