By Mary Leighton, OTR/L
“Adapt! It’s what we do!” became the 2020 motto for Camp No Limits as the world shut down in March for the COVID-19 pandemic. Needless to say, the pandemic changed things: the way we all had to put our lives on hold, the way we live, and even the way we have hosted camps since our humble beginnings in 2004. Camp No Limits was founded in Maine in 2004 with the mission of education, empowerment, and support for children and their families living with limb loss and/or limb differences, so we already knew a bit about adapting.
While we braced for the unknown, we did what we knew how to do best. We adapted our setups and were able to hold 2 in-person camps — Florida and Camp sNOw Limits (in Maine) — before going virtual in April 2020. Our staff worked tirelessly to figure out how to make Camp No Limits Virtual, and we succeeded. We were able to hold 7 virtual camps and numerous weekly virtual connections for the remainder of 2020 and continue to do so into 2021. The virtual camps allowed us to connect with campers from all over the United States and 8 different countries, and while we could not be together in person, we were still able to connect from our screens.
What made this possible was funding from Hanger Charitable Foundation. I shared my very first patient with Scott Hebert, CPO, a Hanger Clinic prosthetist. Other Hanger clinicians quickly saw the impact the camp had on the campers and families and began volunteering their time at camps nationwide. In 2014, Hanger Charitable Foundation granted $100,000 to provide scholarships to first-time families attending camps in 2014–2015. Over the last 6 years, Hanger Charitable Foundation has made it possible for over 5,000 campers/family members to attend Camp No Limits. The camps are staffed by physical and occupational therapists (PTs/OTs), prosthetists, adult amputee mentors, and other healthcare professionals. The scholarship funds allow campers and their families to attend 1 of the camps nationwide where they have the opportunity to participate in life skills sessions led by PTs/OTs, learning skills such as tying shoes, putting their hair in a ponytail, practicing prosthetic hygiene and care, participating in balance activities, learning cooking skills, and practicing other fine and gross motor skill development needed for everyday life activities. The “magic of camp” happens with the mentorship and unique connections that are made. Campers and families learn about the many opportunities that are available to them. Many sigh in relief, finally feeling “normal” and “at home” for the first time, having friendships and “family” that will last a lifetime.
We recently received a Hanger Foundation Empowerment Signature Grant. That funding will allow us to continue our mission by providing scholarships for 60 families in 2021 at 1 of our 4 in-person camps. The partnership we have with Hanger Clinic and Hanger Charitable Foundation has allowed us the success of not only providing opportunities to our campers and families, but also providing hope and a sense of humanity to our whole community and a belief that we are all in this together and we will be the change that we wish to see in this world, come what may.
Mary Leighton, OTR/L, is an occupational therapist and the founder of Camp No Limits. Visit the website at https://nolimitsfoundation.org/.