By Jeff Krieger
Whether you’re a camper, staff member, family of either or a part of the larger community, there is a multitude of lessons to be learned from the camping experience. Perhaps the most powerful lesson a person can learn is how a group of individuals can work together towards a much greater cause and actually impact the health and welfare of generations of people to come.
Campers and camp staff are always encouraged to act respectfully and appropriately and strive to make their little piece of the world a better place to be. At Camp Or Hashemesh, although we were very pleased with these efforts, we wanted to find a way that everyone involved with our camp could participate in one single event, contribute in a variety of ways and help make a significant difference in many lives. We also wanted a cause that we could find an immediate and personal connection to, and an event that would capitalize on our program’s resources and curriculum.
Laps Of Love – The Concept
This search did not take a long time. The highlight of many camp days is swimming, especially here in Florida. Our campers are in the pool twice a day, instructional swim in the morning and creative swim in the afternoon. Parents look forward to their children improving their comfort level, water-safety habits and swim-stroke competency, while the children just want to find new ways to have fun. Lap swims are a significant part of our instructional program. These sessions allow the staff members the opportunity to evaluate the progress of their campers, help them with adjustments and enable the campers to have a great deal of fun.
One of the other highlights of our summer day-camp season is the group sleepover. Our third-through-eighth graders really get pumped up for their respective overnighters. Since we are a day camp, our campers truly appreciate these giant slumber parties, and it’s clear both the staff and the campers use this opportunity to bond and make it a very special experience. Many parents use this time to see how their little ones will do sleeping away from home; for many of these children it’s their first time. The older campers are veterans of these events and play an important role in passing along the tradition to the younger campers. No matter what age group is participating in the sleepover, a late dip in the pool is always a part of these evenings.
Since swimming and sleepovers are so popular with our campers, staff and parents, I hoped the idea of a twenty-four hour swim-a-thon fundraiser would also appeal to them. This effort would require that we have at least one lap swimmer in the pool for twenty-four consecutive hours. It would also call for families, friends and members of the community to get involved, either as sponsors or swimmers.
The idea was well received by all parties, so all we needed was a cause. There are so many worthy charities in need of any and every donation; however, we wanted to select one that really hit close to home.
Heart To Heart
I had known that one of my counselors is the survivor of a heart transplant, some thirteen years prior. I had been very interested in her story because my own brother had died of complications due to a congenital heart disorder over fifty years ago. I thought, how wonderful it is that technology has come so far.
This counselor also informed me that one of our campers suffered from a heart disorder and, in fact, her mother was the Director of the Florida Chapter of the Children’s Heart Foundation. This connection led to the start of the 2005 Camp Or Hashemesh “Laps of Love” twenty-four hour swim-a-thon, a fundraising event in which all proceeds would benefit this foundation’s efforts not only to raise awareness of heart disease and defects among children, but to move towards research dedicated to finding ways to prevent and to cure it. It was a powerful connection, and everyone involved with our camp and this foundation were eager to participate in the event.
I was inspired by the efforts of our campers, staff and sponsors, as well as members of the foundation and our community. The buzz was highly visible, and the campers and staff took this opportunity not only to learn about this devastating problem, but to participate in an event that demonstrated their sensitivity to this cause. Everyone got involved: There was a different feeling that surrounded lap swims, families generously sponsored laps, and several local merchants donated food and beverages for the long night.
The campers started off the “Laps of Love” by swimming from 9 a.m. till noon and again from 1 p.m. till 3 p.m., while our CITs (Counselors In Training) covered the lunch hour. The oldest group of counselors took the shift from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., while our staff prepared dinner for those who were planning on sleeping over and swimming throughout the night. From 6 p.m. through midnight, both staff and campers took turns in the pool. At midnight it was lights out for our campers, who by then, were more than ready for a little R and R!
During the midnight to 6 a.m. shift, members of the staff and community supported each other, both in and out of the pool. With a bit of encouragement, many of our sleepover guests were back in the pool at 6 a.m. and took turns swimming laps until 9 a.m. The twenty-four-hour cycle was complete, and we managed to raise $2,500. Although the campers and staff were tired the following day, the feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction was powerful.
Still Going Strong
Throughout the remainder of the summer, the staff and campers proudly wore their Camp Or Hashemesh “Laps of Love “t-shirts, which were given to all the participants in the swim-a-thon by the Florida Chapter of the Children’s Heart Foundation. The buzz did not subside, and I was amazed at how often I was approached with comments such as, “Next year I’m going to swim twice as many laps!” Our participants were not the only ones impressed with this effort. The Coca Cola Corporation, as a part of its Days of Caring & Sharing Program, awarded us a grant to help operate the 2006 Camp Or Hashemesh “Laps of Love “ Swim-A-Thon. With that financial and moral support, we were able to publicize the event more, and as a result, the community was much more active, and the media also got involved.
The 2006 fundraising version proved to be an even more powerful experience for everyone involved. From the beginning of the camp season, our aquatic staff began inspiring the campers to get motivated during their instructional and lap swims. Our arts and crafts specialist dedicated time in her program to allow the campers an opportunity to make hearts of all sizes and shapes that would be put up around the entire camp, especially around the pool. The response was truly incredible. The effort was both heartwarming and productive. Our campers swam with passion and purpose, and the community responded with generosity. Several of the local television stations sent crews to cover the event, as did reporters from local newspapers.
We followed the same format as with the 2005 swim-a-thon, but the results were quite different. The 2006 Camp Or Hashemesh “Laps of Love Swim-A-Thon” raised $5,000 for the Florida Chapter of the Children’s Heart Foundation, with twice as many laps being swum and many, many more community members participating.
The experience left me feeling thrilled. Our camp is filled with many wonderful traditions that both campers and staff look forward to every year. Clearly, the twenty-four hour swim-a-thon fundraiser has now become one of those very special events. I am so impressed with the way in which both our staff and campers have responded to this cause. The lesson they are learning about the power of giving back to the community and making a difference in the lives of those in need is so important. The fact that this is all done while everyone has so much fun and, in the process, develops strong bonds and a sense of teamwork, makes it all the more satisfying. Furthermore, the point cannot be overlooked that while our campers are preparing for this effort in the pool, they are improving their own physical, emotional and recreational fitness.
I know that after participating in an event such as this, everyone involved is more appreciative of how precious their health is and how fortunate they are to be healthy enough to contribute to such a worthy cause. Hopefully, in years to come, Camp Or Hashemesh will need to find a different cause for our camp to rally around because children’s heart defects and disease will disappear. Nonetheless, we will continue to strive to keep teaching our campers the value of giving back to the community!
Jeff Krieger is the Director of Camp Or Hashemesh, Clearwater, Fla. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.