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Birch Camp is a signature program of One Heartland (formerly known as Camp Heartland), which pioneered the concept of providing social, psychological, therapeutic and recreational services within a residential camp environment for children living with HIV/AIDS. Since 1993, One Heartland has been a safe haven for children impacted by HIV/AIDS; a summer camping program where children living with this disease can find refuge and recreation. Today, One Heartland is the nation’s largest HIV/AIDS camping and care program. It welcomes children from 40 states and has provided camp experiences to over 7,000 individuals since its inception. With the recent addition of Birch Family Camp, One Heartland has expanded its mission to include services for families and caregivers in the New York area.
Today, the goal of the Birch Camp remains simple and profound: to bring together a diverse group of families challenged by HIV/AIDS, economic hardship and hopelessness, and offer them a transformative experience that will provide the physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual renewal they need to face the daily strains of living with this disease. This mission is built on the understanding that hardship, whether caused by illness or other life-altering circumstances, affects the entire family, and that relief must be made available to the entire family.
For that reason, Birch Camp defines "family" with great elasticity, providing activities and services for children, siblings, parents, grandparents, adoptive parents, foster parents and anyone else in the caregiver category -- in ages ranging from infants to the elderly. It is yet another aspect that makes our program truly unique.
Furthermore, we provide our camp free of charge. Fully 100% of our campers live below the poverty line. That is why all of the 90 families (approximately 220 individuals) who attend Birch Camp each summer pay nothing.
Birch Camp created the concept of providing camp sessions for families dealing with HIV/AIDS because, by having the entire family at camp, there are growth opportunities for both the familial unit and its individual members. This increases the likelihood of achieving therapeutic goals. Birch provides a forum through which otherwise isolated and fractured families can find common ground and share common bonds. Together, they gain the courage to take significant remedial steps that may include disclosing the truth of their medical situation to relatives, seeking help with abusive situations, and exploring fears that have previously debilitated the family. At the same time, they experience a level of normalcy, understanding and acceptance they had not known before.
For parents and caregivers, camp is a week of therapy, education, respite and recreation. For teens, it is a time of peer-socialization and training in life-skills they never received in school or at home. While for children, the program is a chance to be a kid, participating in traditional camp activities like swimming, boating, arts and crafts. Yet, camp is so much more than a week in the woods. Though seven days is a very short time in which to achieve significant therapeutic milestones, Birch has a long track record of doing exactly that. The result is the development of strong individuals, stronger families, and a vibrant community of hope and support.
- Jenny Kelly
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