Camp O Experience
Have you ever held the hand of a child who is homesick for the first time? Have you ever witnessed the joy of a child getting into a hot air balloon to take his first amazing ride in the sky? Have you ever laughed until your side ached because of a clown's silly antics? No? Well, then you probably weren't at Camp Okawehna this year, and you really missed out....(read more).
The week-long summer camp was held from Saturday, June 6 through Friday, June 12. As always, Camp Okawehna was at the Cedar Crest campsite in Lyles, Tennessee. The campers, children ages 6 to 18 who have kidney disease, started arriving at the campsite in buses and vans at midday on Saturday. Approximately 100 campers checked in at the Caribbean-themed welcome station and received their badges and cabin assignments. As the rustic cabins filled with campers, and the counselors and campers met for the first time or got reacquainted from years past, they came together to create their cabin flags. Later that evening, the uniquely designed and colored cabin flags were presented and then the color team draft began. In the color team draft, campers and counselors from different cabins were divided into color teams that would compete with each other throughout the week, with the first competition beginning the very evening of the draft. Just after the competition, everyone got a chance to relax and mingle while eating s'mores at the bonfire, and then it was 'lights out' for the kids.
Sunday morning dawned bright and warm and welcomed the campers to their first full day of camp. As many campers made their way to the STIX unit, managed by Glenda Streicher and a caring staff of nurses, to receive their first weekly round of hemodialysis, others were climbing out of bed and heading toward the mess hall for their 8 a.m. breakfast. After eating a fantastic hot breakfast prepared by Lori Peters and Pat Williams and their kitchen helpers, the campers walked to the tent area to receive their derby cars from Camper Keith and Camper Nancy. Each camper began thinking about how to modify his or her derby car in order to win the design, sanding, or fastest car awards. The boys also let it be known that they were determined to reclaim the derby car title from the girls this year. As the campers began to ponder their car ideas, they were directed back to their cabins for clean up. Shortly thereafter the activity periods began. Some campers trekked through the woods to join Bob Kraynik and Joe Swearingen and their helpers at the ropes course where they faced the challenges of walking across a set of ropes or swings on wobbly knees in order to reach their goal. There were some moans of, "I can't do this," that were met with the encouragement of, "Yes, you can. Give it a try. Go slow." Success shone on the faces of the campers who did give it a try and overcame their challenge with just a bit of faith and encouragement. Further down through the woods, some campers joined Doug Patterson and Clint James at the lake for canoeing and fishing. There were comments such as, "Yes, you have to wear a life jacket to get in the canoe," and, "Sure you can help me paddle around the lake," mingling with the exclamations of "I caught one!" Back through the woods under the covered pavilion, other campers could be found decorating their derby cars, bandanas, and satchels with Camper Nancy and her helpers. The campers were encouraged to use the paints and markers and let their imaginations take them away. The items resulting from their vivid imaginations were beautiful and wonderfully unique. Just a short walk away from crafts, the sounds of play rang out as the remaining campers were found racing across the open green field under the summer sun playing games with Mike Williams and Andy Parker. Then, to everyone's delight, it was time for lunch! Everyone returned to the mess hall to eat and plan the rest of their day. The campers had another color team competition that day and then free time, which usually spells P-O-O-L. After dinner, the campers eagerly lined up for face painting. Sonnie Bain of Sonnie Faces worked hours on end decorating the children with wild designs. You could hear the buzz and laughter from the campers as they made their way to the tent to display their newly painted faces. Soon the sounds of music began to fill the air as campers and counselors gathered to participate in the evening's event -- karaoke and dancing. Every cabin group was encouraged to get up and sing a song. While a few groups started out shy, others took charge of the microphone and the crowd was thoroughly entertained. Those who preferred a quieter evening found their way back to the craft shelter to play a few rounds of bingo with Phil Austin and his helpers. Much to the children's delight, Phil brought with him a stash of treasures that he generously awarded as prizes to the campers even without a bingo being called. By 10 p.m. the dancers and bingo players were all walking toward their cabins tired and ready for bed.
Monday morning came and promised another hot and bright day. As the cabin campers were getting out of bed and preparing to go to breakfast, those in the Cecil lodge were disconnecting from their peritoneal dialysis machines and getting ready as well. Cheryl Conquest, the nurses, and counselors stayed busy disconnecting machines, checking sites, getting vitals, administering medicines and then gathering up their group of PD campers into two vans to make the short drive around camp to the mess hall for breakfast. After everyone enjoyed their hot breakfast and spent time cleaning their bunks, it was time for the activity periods to begin. The campers alternated between crafts, field games, and the Home Depot workshop. The Home Depot workshop was generously provided by the Dickson, Tennessee, Home Depot under the management of Terry Parker. The banging of hammers and the kids laughter could be heard as they worked to create birdhouses, book ends, tool boxes, or storage boxes. There were plenty of campers proving to be skilled carpenters as they proudly presented their creations. Most of the campers were excited to head off to crafts in order to decorate their new item as it would soon become a Father's Day gift. At noon it was time to take a break for lunch and then it was off to another color team competition. After the competition, it was free time where the kids could go to the pool, play more field games, work on crafts, or present their talent to Cheryl Conquest and Wynn Redpath in order to enter Wednesday evening's talent show. After those events were completed, it was time for dinner followed by a carnival. The carnival, headed up by Jaimee Lockwood and Chris Lovell, was a special treat for the children. Many volunteers arrived to assist with managing the inflatables where the kids jumped, slid, and tried to use a 'wrecking ball' to knock each other down. Other volunteers were stationed at the cotton candy, popcorn, and drink stations. More volunteers were located at the kiddy games helping the little ones with the football toss and gorilla gulp. A few volunteers were managing the dunking booth, where there was no shortage of volunteers lining up to be dunked due to the heat! Still more volunteers were found helping the Vanderbilt team with the hot air balloon rides. As was the case last year, there was a long line at the caricature station where counselor Jennifer Corley sat for hours creating amazing caricatures of the kids. None of the action was missed by counselor George Blank who could be found snapping pictures of all the action! When the darkness began to fall, everyone was ushered inside under the tent to watch the illusion show presented by the Mysterian. For over an hour several illusionists amazed the audience. There were "ooohs" and "aaahs" and "how did he do that" coming from both the counselors and kids alike in the audience. The final act, a mind-boggling levitation, had the audience gasping in wonder and praising the show with wild applause. When the crowd settled down, it was time to head off to bed in order to rest up for another fun day.
On Tuesday morning, the campers were waking up to a cloudy sky and making their way to breakfast. The day started out like the Monday before with breakfast, clean up, and activities located at the ropes, lake, field, or crafts. The big event for the evening was a luau dinner followed by the derby car competition. Without fail, Chris Keen roasted the perfect pork tenderloin that was the highlight of the meal. Then, when plates were cleared away and the super speedway track was constructed and all competitors were gathered in their chairs, it was time for the race to begin. The judges had reviewed the cars to determine the "fastest looking car," the "best sanding job on a car," and "the most unique design." The flaggers were in position, and the official track master was ready to begin. Dr. Berry was the emcee for the evening who assured the audience that many of his questions to the competitors would receive a response of, "I don't know." The audience laughed heartily as Dr. Berry's prediction proved to be true. As the competitors took their places and the cars were positioned, everyone in the audience waited with bated breath for the two seconds to see who would emerge victorious. The girls had cars that proved faster than the boys in the first two rounds. However, by rounds three and four the girls had dwindled down to a scare showing. In the end, the boys were able to claim victory as the reigning derby car champions. By 10 p.m., the campers were headed back to the cabins to get ready for bed.
Wednesday morning found the campground a little damp from an evening shower and with a threat of rain looming on the horizon. Everyone was informed to be up and ready for breakfast dressed in the official camp t-shirts because camp pictures were taking place just after breakfast. Without a single groan, campers lined up to have their pictures taken. When it was time for the counselors to get their pictures, they were trying not to laugh as the campers heckled and cajoled them in an attempt to get a hilarious reaction. Soon the pictures were over and it was off to cabin clean up and then activities and another color competition. Just after lunch, the basement of the Cecil lodge was inundated with female campers looking for the perfect prom dress to wear to Thursday night's prom. Each girl was able to choose a dress from one of the three racks and then take it upstairs to be custom fitted by Laurice Crocker. After the prom dress selection had been made, it was time for all cabins to put the final touches on their skits for the talent show. After dinner, the talent show began. The show contained a little of everything ranging from individual and duo song performances to cabin skits with themes like the Wizard of Oz theme, making rain, pirate battles over a kidney, and performing a transplant. There was even a standup comic and a bluegrass band performance. One touching moment came when, between the cabin and counselor acts, Andy Parker and Cheryl Conquest made a special announcement regarding a new Camp Okawehna tradition. Andy presented the audience with the Camp Okawehna Hall of Fame plaque that will hang at camp every year displaying the names those who are special contributors to camp. The first names to appear on the plaque are Dr. Keith and Mrs. Nancy Johnson's. Andy stated, "It is fitting that the people who made this camp possible would be the first names on the plaque. We [at camp] appreciate all you do." Andy also displayed the small individual plaques that Dr. Keith and Mrs. Nancy Johnson would receive as personal keepsakes. Dr. Keith and Mrs. Nancy Johnson smiled and nodded their appreciation. Then it was time for the interns' skit. The end of the talent show was made most memorable as the interns staged a "Camp Okawehna Beauty Contest" where the male interns dressed in prom gowns as the contestants and the female interns were the judges. To the campers' delight, the beauty contestants really played to the audience. At the end of the skit, the judges could not determine a winner so Jaimee Lockwood was called up to make the decision. Upon her inability to determine a winner, the contestants were in an uproar and threw a cream pie at her. Then, faster than one could blink, there were cream pies flying among the cast and some audience members. Gauged by the amount of laughter under the tent, it was considered very entertaining. At the end of the show, the talent show judges, Carla Mills, Jessica Porter, Julie DiLoreto, and Stuart Redpath, declared first, second, and third place winners. Shortly thereafter, everyone returned to their cabins in order to rest up for the next day.
A grey sky and heavy cloud cover greeted campers as they awoke on Thursday morning. The campers hurried off to breakfast and then, as they were getting ready to return to their bunks for cabin clean up, the sky let loose a cold, billowing rain. Ever prepared, Chris Lovell set up the video screen and started a movie. As if they were all in the comfort of their living room, the campers and counselors scooted their chairs closer together and huddled up to watch the movie. The serenity of the moment was only dispelled when Andy stopped the movie to announce that a special program was taking place under the tent. Everyone shuffled outside under the tent to take their seats. One by one the campers' solemn faces broke into large grins as four clowns appeared. The CircEsteem, a team out of Chicago, Illinois, brought to camp through funding provided by Texas Children's Hospital, began to entertain the kids with juggling acts, acrobatic stunts, and balancing acts. The clowns also relied on audience participation for some of their stunts. Plenty of volunteers were eager to get on stage. Those who did not make it on stage were delighted when the clowns made their way to the audience and began picking on audience members. One clown had all of the children giggling as he attempted to capture campers in his fly net. At the end of the general performance, the clowns announced that they would be teaching the campers how to spin plates and perform various other clown tricks. The campers were divided into groups with some staying for clown lessons while others returned to the movie. As the movie ended and the lessons wound down, it was time for lunch and then the final color team competition. As if on cue, the sun reappeared in the sky creating a hot and humid setting for the competition. Completely undeterred, the kids appeared on the field to score their final points in the soccer kick, the football toss, the basketball free throw, and capture the flag events. There was even a round of egg tossing that got a little sticky. After all events were completed it was free time once again. Being prom night, many campers headed over to the lodge to pick up their prom attire. While some female campers were being pampered and receiving a special make-up session with Lisa Browning and Tara Delones, others were being treated to hair styling sessions with Jennie Hoffman, Rachael Hall, Trae Howard, and Eric Williams. Then, at 6 p.m. it was time for dinner and the prom. When the campers arrived at the mess hall, they were greeted with a dazzling Pirates and Princesses themed setting. With a decoration budget provided by Texas Children's Hospital and the creativity of Marsha Heim, Gina Owen, and the Feature Presentation design company, the mess hall and tent were transformed with brightly colored fish, nets on the wall, shells scattered about, pirates in costume, trunks, and wooden mast poles to set the mood. When the music began to play, one by one the princesses in their beautifully bright prom gowns made their way to the dance floor to greet the pirates with their black eye patches, bandanas, and well-fitted vests. Every modern day dance was attempted from the chicken dance to the Macarena and from the hokey-pokey to the electric slide. Pictures were being taken with a Polaroid camera in front of the shipwreck picture area. Many kids proudly carried around their photos eagerly watching them develop. All too soon the music stopped. It was time for the final camp announcements. There was a crowning of the prom king and queen and awards were given to graduating campers, the winners of the color team competition, and the recipients of the cleanest cabin award. After the awards were distributed, it was time to break up the party. Campers began to say their tearful goodbyes and take final pictures. Then it was time to head off to bed to rest up for the ride home on Friday.
Friday morning came much too soon. Exhausted campers were busy packing suitcases that suddenly seemed too small to hold all of their camp treasures and their clothes. Counselors were making sure that all equipment was safely packed, cabins were cleaned, and all campers were in the correct areas to board the transportation that would take them home. As the morning hours passed and the campers and counselors boarded their buses, the camp ground began to empty. The logistics team was left behind to ensure the grounds were secure and clean and that all reusable camp supplies were properly packed and shipped back to Nashville where they would wait on a shelf until next year's camp.
It is hard to believe that, after months of planning, meeting, organizing, and preparing, the 2009 camp season concluded on that Friday morning. Many counselors commented that this was the best organized, smoothest running camp season that they had ever attended. Much credit is given to the hard work of Andy Parker, Chris Lovell, Glenda Streicher, and Jaimee Lockwood for the camp's success. However, camp would not have been possible without the help of every volunteer and sponsor who generously contributed time or funds. Camp Okawehna is and always will be about the kids. Every volunteer and sponsor at Camp Okawehna supported the mission of allowing children with kidney disease to have a week of carefree fun. Thanks to the volunteers and sponsors who gave so generously of their time and money, many precious memories were made at camp and will be stored in the hearts of campers and counselors for years to come.
The 2010 Camp O Experience
Camp O was held during one hot and humid week from Saturday, June 5th through Friday, June 11th. The grounds of Camp Cedar Crest in Lyles, Tennessee were transformed into a summer Olympics celebration for the eager campers. Arriving from St. Louis, Memphis, Houston, Arizona, Charleston, and Nashville, the 70 campers in attendance were greeted by camp counselors and volunteers. Everyone was eager to kick off the week's events. Some of the camper's daily activities included swimming, working a challenging ropes course, Frisbee golf, archery, soccer, and attempting to master the climbing wall. The schedule also included special nightly activities such as: Olympic torch lighting and opening round games and ceremonies, a camp bonfire, a derby car race, a circus show and teaching workshop, a carnival, a luau, a talent show, and prom.
At prom, the Camp King and Queen were announced. They are:
The Camp King: Coty Evans
Camp Queen: Danielle Waller
The ongoing battle between to boys and girls to see who will win the Pinewood Derby was won by the boys again this year.
The Pinewood Derby winner: Arturo Zamora
The annual Camp Hall of Fame award is used to celebrate special people who go above and beyond to invest their time and talent into Camp O, making it possible for children with kidney disease to attend camp.
The second annual Camp Hall of Fame award recipients are: Hal Whetstone and Tom Brown
There are many people who contributed to making Camp Okawehna 2010 a success. Thank you for making the lives of children with kidney disease a little happier.
Thank you to our vendors for your generous financial and product support:
ALSCO (Mike Rigli)
Baptist Hospital Credit Union
Hickman County Fire Department (Bill Henley)
Home Depot (Terry Parker)
Larry Finley, Magicians
Lebanon Kubota (Ryan Ezell)
Mayfield Ice Cream (Mike Potts)
Metro Medical Supply (Robbie Durham)
Music City Anna
Nashville Party Authority
NKF of Middle TN (Teresa Davidson)
Patrick and Ellen Donlon
Smart Circle International
Tennessee Kidney Foundation (Samantha Rodgers)
Texas Children's Hospital (Meredith Vela)
US National Guard (SGT Cade Hooper)
WR Newman General Contractors
Thank you to our volunteers for your generous donation of time and talent: