Camp, The Greatest Gift

Kalina at The Painted Turtle - Bubbles at Boating (1).JPG

Ember Fry hadn't even noticed she was holding her breath. As her family of four turned onto The Painted Turtle campground, Ember and her husband, Andy, still hadn’t figured out how to convince their nine year old daughter to go to Camp. “Kalina was in tears the whole drive up the mountain,” recounted Ember. “It was going to be her first time away sleeping in a room without either her brother, Dad and me, or usual team of nurses. I wasn’t worried about her brother, Jadon, having a good time because he had heard all about Camp from friends and was excited, but I half expected to receive a call from Kalina asking to come home.”


While going to an out-of-state overnight camp for the first time was scary for the entire family, Ember and Andy knew it was an important milestone for everyone. Jadon and Kalina were born with diastrophic dysplasia, a rare form of dwarfism that often requires a tracheotomy and the use of a power scooter. Due to the chronic nature of their conditions, the children require round-the-clock nurses to ensure they’re breathing correctly.

“When Jadon was born, his health was extremely fragile and he was mostly isolated from the world for the first three years of his life,” said Ember. “Five years later, Kalina was born with the same illness. They are rarely left alone or away from trusted adults, so Camp was a big step for us. After researching The Painted Turtle’s medical facility, the Well Shell, and speaking with the Medical Director, Andy and I felt very comfortable leaving the kids in Camp’s care.”

Not only was this first visit to The Painted Turtle a chance for Jadon and Kalina to be more independent, it was also a rare opportunity for Ember and Andy to get some much-needed alone time together. “I wanted to call and check in every day, but instead I focused on all the good Camp can do for them emotionally,” said Ember. “I don’t suffer from the same illnesses that Jadon and Kalina do. They need to experience the fun of life alongside children who have similar obstacles to themselves. And after years of Andy and I being on call 24/7, it was nice to trust in Camp and have some time to ourselves while others provided the round-the-clock care for our kids.”

The week flew by and as Ember and Andy returned to Camp to pick up their children, they were amazed at the greeting they received. “Jadon saw us and immediately came over to tell us about his first time zip-lining, but as I looked over at Kalina, she was in tears again – only instead of crying from fear this time, she was crying because she didn’t want to leave all the love, hope, and life she found at The Painted Turtle. That was the greatest gift for Andy and me, and we’re so grateful for the opportunity to experience Camp. Our whole family has been changed forever.”

Every child deserves to experience the power and magic of camp. The Painted Turtle, a camp for children with serious medical conditions, makes that experience possible for all children, regardless of physical limitations or life-threatening diagnoses. Every aspect of the intentional and adaptive programming—from a wheelchair-friendly ropes course to exceptional on-site medical care—is designed to allow all campers to fully participate in all activities.

Through eight week-long, disease-specific Summer Sessions, ten Family Weekend camps, and hundreds of in-hospital camp days, The Painted Turtle offers life changing opportunities throughout the year. Since 2004, over 59,000 children and their families have attended Camp completely free of charge.

With the on-site support of some of California’s top pediatric medical professionals and the Well Shell, a state-of-the-art medical facility, The Painted Turtle’s adaptive programming makes it possible for children with serious medical conditions to enjoy traditional summer camp activities such as fishing, boating, horseback riding, archery, high ropes, arts and crafts, woodshop, and much more. Children with chronic and life-threatening illnesses arrive looking for a typical camp experience, and what they discover is confidence, belonging, and a feeling of acceptance that lasts long after they head home.

The Painted Turtle serves over 90 medical conditions including: cerebral palsy, spina bifida, kidney disease and transplant, liver disease and transplant, primary immunodeficiency diseases, rheumatic diseases, skeletal dysplasia (dwarfism), hemophilia, thalassemia, inflammatory bowel diseases, neuromuscular disorders, genetic and metabolic conditions, and many more.

Located in Lake Hughes, California, The Painted Turtle is a proud member of the SeriousFun Children’s Network founded by Paul Newman, who’s his vision and legacy have impacted over a million children with serious medical conditions and families worldwide.

To learn more about The Painted Turtle and how to apply, please visit Camp magic awaits!

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