Last week, as Iworked on a story about Camp Ronald McDonald at Eagle Lake’s 20th birthday, I remembered a time when I had a vague idea about the camp, a place for people with disabilities to experience a camp-like setting.
But it is so much more and when a volunteer opportunity arose, I got to see the caliber of the program that has gone on at Eagle Lake every summer since 1992.
At first, volunteering at the camp was a family affair as my family and I spent a day with the people in the Easter Seals program assisting them in games and arts and crafts.
Located near the shores of Eagle Lake, I was impressed with the camp property itself. The 32-acres of land is clean and well maintained.
It provides space for more than 100 campers and all of the facilities — the dining hall, amphitheater, cabins, and the path to the lake are accessible to people in wheelchairs.
Later that season, I was asked to volunteer with the YMCA group from Truckee, Calif.
The first year, I was a counselor in training (CIT) with a cabin of nine girls, 6 and 7 years old, and the following year, I was a co-counselor in a cabin with girls ages 10 to 13.
Campers were kept so busy they didn’t have time to miss home, much. One young girl even declared camp “the best in the world.” And I would have to agree, it is one of the best. Even though my time at Camp Ronald McDonald was brief, those weeks are some of the highlights of my teen years.
Camp days are very structured. Unit time is in the morning and each cabin rotated through different activities —canoeing, nature hikes, sports, and arts and craft.
When the young girls learned archery, the staff member in charge let them do a shoot out for a Coke, because soda was a no-no for the kids.
They also got to try rock climbing and even the younger children could climb up with ease, wearing a harness of course. Afternoons consisted of free time with the kids getting to choose activities they wanted to do.
Both years I volunteered, most of the girls in my cabins preferred swimming, although a few afternoons ended with everyone scrambling to safety to avoid the August thunderstorms and brief downpours of rain.
After dinner, all the campers gathered together for organized game time such as relays, steal the flag and a scavenger hunt to find the hidden watermelon.
As the week wound down, the night games got more crazy with giddy children allowed to throw or dump some sort of food onto their counselors and CITs. It is said egg is good for the hair, but egg and flour together creates one gluey mess.
I could share so much more, like how it was best not to get caught with your elbows on the table during a meal and the night we took the younger girls to “steal” ice cream from the kitchen.
It was such a privilege to be part of something that provides both adults and children with opportunities and experiences they might not otherwise get to do.
Former camp director Catherine Ithuburn said the camp does serve people from Lassen County. As a way to give back to the community staff hosts Lassen Kids Week where children, who do not have disabilities, can attend.
Full time summer staff, some who are local, also gain work experience in recreation, education, nursing, psychology, and nutrition.
These full time staff help make Camp Ronald McDonald the success it is. They aren’t afraid to jump in with the campers, earning them adoration and respect.
As staff gears up for another year, the community is invited tohelp celebrate Camp Ronald McDonald’s birthday at its annual community pancake breakfast on Memorial Day weekend.
This year’s event is scheduled from 7 to 11 a.m. Saturday, May 26 and Sunday, May 27. Proceeds benefit the Lassen County Kids Camper Scholarship program. The breakfast is also a way for people to see the camp facilities and learn more about the program.
Happy Birthday, Camp Ronald McDonald, here’s to many more successful years of putting smiles on people’s faces and providing a great camp experience.
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