By Kim Russell
17 Jun

A Life-Changing Event

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

In 2004 my CHD cardiologist finally talked me into attending the first ACHA conference. At the same time, my local cardiologist got me to agree to volunteer at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta’s Camp Braveheart, a camp for children ages 7-18 with CHD. Both events completely changed my life forever.

Like many others, attending the ACHA conference showed me that I am not alone in the world of CHD—that there are many others who can relate to and who share the same experiences, trials, and triumphs. But serving at Camp Braveheart showed me even more!

My husband and I discussed our different jobs at camp. He was a cabin counselor and I was part of the activity staff. He would be spending 24/7 relating to and guiding a cabin of boys ages 15-16, while I would be helping with arts and crafts, decorating for evening events, and helping with odd jobs around camp. We arrived ready to serve, anxious to—in a small way—help the next generations. Who would have known how much this experience would impact us!

As we began working with the children in different capacities, it was easy to see that camp was not about what we could do for them, but rather what they could teach us. Besides the resilience, bravery, and courage displayed by many CHD patients, these children showed acceptance, encouragement, and support to each other on an incredible number of levels.

My favorite story to illustrate this happened just a couple years ago. It was one camper’s last year at camp. In addition to CHD, this camper was developmentally delayed, yet she was so excited to announce that she would be playing the piano and singing for the talent show. She reminded us all week and expressed how much she wanted us to be there.

Finally, on Wednesday night, it was time for the talent show. When it was her turn, the camper got on stage with the piano ready to perform. But when she saw the large number of people in the audience, she could only stare. A counselor went to talk to her and she began to cry, realizing that she did not have what it took to perform her talent in front of so many people. The kids in the audience cheered her on by chanting her name and shouting words of encouragement.

That was not quite enough, so at the suggestion of a counselor, all of the kids in the audience stood and turned to face the back of the gym, hoping that if no one was actually looking, she would be able to move forward. And that is exactly what she did. With one of the most beautiful voices that exists, she sang three verses of Amazing Grace. There was not a dry eye in the house and when she was done, every camper, of their own accord, stood on benches and gave her a standing ovation!

This story still brings tears to my eyes, as it is with this giving, encouraging and loving attitude that all our campers exemplify at camp and in their daily lives. Oh, how much we can learn from them! No matter how someone looks, or what personality differences they have, our job is to love, encourage, and help those in need. THIS is why my husband and I just volunteered for our twelfth year of camp!

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