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30 Chicago-Area Children Coming to North Star Reach

With the help of the Sickle Cell Disease Association of Illinois (SCDAI), 30 Chicago-area children living daily with this genetic and chronic disease will arrive at North Star Reach today and spend a week at camp.

Until this year, the SCDAI raised roughly $50,000 to send Chicago-area children with sickle cell disease to a camp in Central Illinois. When it became clear that the non-profit would not be able to raise those funds for 2016, SCDAI’s executive director TaLana Hughes said she learned about North Star Reach. Along with other representatives from SCDAI, Hughes evaluated the camp last month during a site visit.

“The medical building and team are phenomenal,” said Hughes, who is also the mother of a daughter who will attend camp. “In the past, we had to bring our own medical specialists. But the physicians and nurses at North Star Reach have the knowledge and experience to take care of our sickle cell kids. They also have a level of empathy and compassion that really impressed us.”

North Star Reach’s health center is considered among the finest of its kind in the country. Many other facility amenities will ideally suit the campers with sickle cell disease. Because these children are highly sensitive to extreme temperatures, they will benefit from the climate controlled buildings, including the camper cabins. Next summer, the camp will house two heated swimming pools and a warming hut.

“By serving kids from Chicago and urban areas, we’re getting back to our roots,” said Dr. “Skip” Walton, the camp’s medical director, referring to North Star Reach’s history as a former University of Michigan’s Fresh Air Camp, which began in the 1920s with the aim of providing urban youths an opportunity to spend time in nature and learn outdoor skills. “These children will have the opportunity to be out in this beautiful environment and to just be kids. My medical team and I are here to support them if they need care, but our goal is to keep them healthy and make sure they’re out enjoying camp.”

The Chicago-area campers will depart from SCDAI’s office, located at 8100 S. Western Ave. on the Southside of Chicago, today at 8:30 a.m. The campers will travel to North Star Reach on an Ideal Charter bus; transportation costs are paid for by the CHECK (Coordination of Health Care for Complex Kids) program at The University of Illinois at Chicago.

Chicago-area hospitals sending campers this week include Advocate Health Care, Rush University Medical Center, University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System, University of Chicago Medicine Comer Children’s Hospital, La Rabida Children’s Hospital, Loyola University Medical Center, and Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. The North Star Reach Sickle Cell Week of camp will run from today through Saturday, August 6th.

A Magical First Camp Session

We enjoyed a magical first North Star Reach camp session from July 3-July 9. More than 70 transplant campers joined us for Michitanki Week, named in honor of Camp Michitanki, which was created by the University of Michigan Transplant Center to provide summer camp experiences for children who have had a solid organ transplant.

Nearly 20 years ago, along with his nursing colleague Vicki Shieck, North Star Reach CEO Doug Armstrong, a former nurse and clinical research director for the UM Transplant Center, helped start the program that became Camp Michitanki. In 1998, Armstrong and Shieck began taking transplant kids to camp each summer. These camps were often far away from Ann Arbor, which meant packing up hospital equipment, medical supplies, and camp gear every year. The sites were also far away from fully equipped medical centers, posing challenges for children who required advanced medical care.

With the opening of North Star Reach, Michitanki campers and volunteers have found a new home, one that features a state-of-the-art health center, staffed around-the-clock by nurses and doctors. Aside from when the campers and their families checked medications into the health center on opening day, most never visited The Observatory again.

The week was filled with new adventures, from exploring wildlife and catching bluegills to learning archery and decorating canoes for the inaugural North Star Reach Dragon Boat Races. Campers and counselors alike enjoyed the new cabins—yes, it’s true, they were air-conditioned and had attached bathrooms with showers. The individual cabin unit campfire gathering spaces were also hugely popular.

As always, one of the week’s highlights was the closing campfire. This year many campers who have rarely spoken in the past during the all-camp performances stepped on the amphitheater stage to dance, sing, tell jokes, and share personal stories.

For all of us on staff and volunteering, it was deeply moving to see transformations in many young lives taking place right in front of our very eyes. Watch the slideshow below and see if you can pinpoint moments of transformation for yourself. If the photograph captures you or someone you know, we invite you to send us an email and share the details with us. We’re collecting transformational summer camp stories to share later in the year. In the meantime, enjoy the magical moments captured in slideshow.  (Photo credits: Rick and Marilyn Indahl Photo and Leisa Thompson Photography.)