Patient stories: Bringing a summer pastime to the kids

With the help of volunteer Maura McNamara, Kelton got to experience the rites of summer camp, including roasted marshmallows.

Like most of the other kids in the Center for Medically Fragile Children at Providence Child Center, Kelton takes her nutrition via a feeding tube to her stomach.

She can't eat the classic summertime treat of a roasted marshmallow. What Kelton can do, with a hand from her volunteer buddy, is stretch that marshmallow stick out over the flame.

She can see the white turn golden, hear her companions' delight, smell the sweet aroma, and squish her fingers into the glorious gooey-ness of the toasted result.

Stirring kids' senses - opening them to experiencing the fun of summer camp in whatever way they're able - is the aim of Camp P.L.A.Y. at the Center for Medically Fragile Children. P.L.A.Y. stands for "Providing Laughter and Adventure for Youth."

And this day camp does just that, whether allowing the kids to pelt water balloons down onto staff members outside or to round the bases in a volunteer-propelled wheelchair.

"One of the things that Providence Child Center is really about," says Pat Budo, operations administrator, "is giving every child who lives here a childhood - meaning that our kids get to have the same childhood experiences that any typically developing kid gets to have. Well, a part of being a child is going to summer camp!"

Now in its fourth year, Camp P.L.A.Y. enlivens lazy summer afternoons for all 58 kids living at the Center for Medically Fragile Children, whose profound disabilities and complex medical needs require round-the-clock nursing care.

Each youngster is paired with a volunteer buddy. These trained volunteers, most of them high school students, hang out with and help the children during the camp's nine themed weeks ranging from Nature to Music to Mad Science Week. Every medically fragile camper gets to enjoy two or more weeks of multisensory activities planned and led by recreation staff.

"Let's make it work for the kids" was the can-do attitude of the folks who originated Camp P.L.A.Y. Making it happen means a whole lot of creating and adapting. During Sports 'n' Games Week, for instance, a sloping metal frame enables Will to scoot a ball straight toward the bowling pins.

Also making it happen are donations to Providence Child Center Foundation, which funds almost all of the recreation therapy program. "The foundation makes things like Camp P.L.A.Y. possible for our children," says Pat Budo. "They fund all the extra goodies that make life what it should be."