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The Power of Camp

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

By Allie Gasiorowski

A few years ago, on the last night at Camp Odayin, a camp for kids with heart conditions, campers and staff were asked to write down one word to describe what Camp Odayin means to them. Some of the answers were: Camp is… Understanding. Friends. Awesome. Belonging. Memories. Freedom. Relief. Sisterhood. Steady Heartbeat. Euphoria. Unity. Family. Home.

These words prove the power of camp. They show that no matter the daily struggles campers may face as heart patients—whether it be through the multiple surgeries and hospital stays or at school, having a difficult time connecting with their peers—they will always have one week each summer where they’ll experience a sense of unity and belonging that Camp Odayin gives them.

Camp Odayin is the premier camp in the Midwest specifically for children with heart disease. Their mission is based on a holistic approach to healing hearts, a desire to nurture and develop independence, confidence, and acceptance throughout camper’s lives, and a desire to have fun and celebrate life. Camp Odayin lives by the mantra that kids play, worries rest and fun happens.

I have been fortunate enough to be able to experience Camp Odayin in multiple capacities, as both a former camper and current volunteer counselor. Camp Odayin first came into my life in 2004, when I started as a camper at the age of 13, and I began volunteering as a counselor at Odayin as soon as I turned 21.

I have spent the past eight unforgettable summers introducing the next generation of heart patients to their newfound heart family. A number of my closest friends that I met as a camper at Odayin have continued volunteering with me, and many other volunteer counselors and nurses at Camp Odayin are also former campers or heart patients themselves. Odayin encourages adults with congenital heart disease to volunteer as counselors. Many campers have found that this is their first time meeting someone with the same heart condition as them, whether it be a camper or counselor.

With some of the older campers who will soon be graduating from high school, I have found that they are interested in hearing about my college experience, some of the barriers I may have experienced as a heart patient, and advice I may have for them. A couple of years ago, I decided to move from Michigan to Minnesota to be even more involved with Camp Odayin and be closer to my heart family, and have developed even stronger bonds with these remarkable people who volunteer their time to Camp Odayin.

Camp Odayin is staffed entirely by volunteer camp counselors, and they are seeking cabin counselors for residential camps in Crosslake, MN and Elkhorn, WI, and day camp in West Saint Paul, MN. Camp Odayin costs only $25 for campers, thanks in part to the generous counselors, nurses and physicians who volunteer their time, and would not be able to exist without these incredibly generous individuals. Counselors work in pairs for the week-long session, live in a cabin and supervise a group of 6-8 campers during five days of overnight camp.

There are also cardiologists on staff each session, and a nurse is paired with each cabin to ensure the safety of campers and staff alike. Many parents have said that they feel their child is the safest at Camp Odayin because of the medical care provided. All volunteer staff members participate in activities with the campers, encourage growth, and serve as positive role models.

Over the past eight summers, I have watched campers form lifelong friendships, compare scars and surgery stories, wear crazy outfits on theme nights, and begin to feel the one thing that they had always sought out in life—to feel normal. It has been a life-changing experience for me.

At camp staff training sessions, which take place the Sunday prior to camp, the camp director, Sara, reminds us that by donating our time, we are making a strong impact on these children’s lives. But what she also notes, and what many volunteers find throughout their week at Camp Odayin, is that these children, who endure everyday struggles and possess so much strength, will often impact our lives just as much.

If you are interested in volunteering a week of your time this summer to be a cabin counselor in Crosslake, MN (bus leaves from Bloomington, MN) or Elkhorn, WI, or are interested in volunteering at the day camp in West Saint Paul, MN, please apply on the volunteer section of the Camp Odayin website by clicking here. You may also email alison@campodayin.org or call 651-351-9185 for more information. Out-of-state applicants are welcomed, and travel stipends available for accepted volunteers.

Summer 2018 Sessions

Residential Camp:

  • July 9-13 (grades 1-6), Crosslake, MN
  • July 16-20 (grades 6-8), Crosslake, MN
  • July 23-27 (grades 9-11), Crosslake, MN
  • July 30-August 3 (grades 1-11), Elkhorn, WI

Day Camp (9:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.):

  • August 6-10(K-3), West St. Paul, MN
  • May 1: Minnesota Camps
  • June 1: Wisconsin Camp


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The opinions expressed by ACHA bloggers and those providing comments on the ACHA Blog are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of the Adult Congenital Heart Association or any employee thereof. ACHA is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the ACHA bloggers.

The contents of this blog are presented for informational purposes only, and should not be substituted for professional advice. Always consult your physicians with your questions and concerns.

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