Special Camps for Kids with Special Medical Needs

By: Tracy M. Fitzgerald

For most youngsters, along with the summertime break from school comes the opportunity to have some fun. There is no shortage of options to consider when it comes to finding a summer camp for the kid that has a love for sports, a desire to explore the great outdoors or a passion for art. But what about the child who has a challenging health condition, preventing them from fully participating in most of the ordinary summer camps out there? A few local organizations have created programs especially for those with special medical needs, providing a valuable community service while giving every child who wants to go to summer camp a chance to do so.

Breathing Easier at Camp Airways

Every August, Baltimore Washington Medical Center (BWMC) gives kids who suffer from asthma a chance to breathe a bit easier while still enjoying a wide range of traditional summer camp activities, from swimming and arts and crafts to yoga and yard games. Camp Airways teaches kids to live with and manage their asthmatic conditions, including how to recognize triggers, how to monitor and maintain peak flow levels, and how to respond in emergency situations. Campers also learn about the impact of nutritional choices on their asthma, the importance of proper hand washing, and the benefits of incorporating daily exercise and physical activity into their schedules.

“Many asthma attacks are exercise induced, and a lot of kids will tell us they don’t exercise because they can’t breathe,” said Sandy Thomas, director of Respiratory Care and Neurology Services at BWMC, who also serves as Camp Airways director. “We talk a lot about the importance of staying active, and show the kids how to proactively plan and medicate themselves before physical activity.”

Camp Airways, held in Severna Park, is staffed by therapists, nurses and junior counselors who are often asthma patients and previous campers themselves.

“Parents can feel safe sending their kids here because we know how to manage asthma and can teach campers how to take care of themselves, while also making sure they have a good time,” said Thomas.

Keeping Blood Sugar In Check at Camp Possibilities

Each summer, pediatric endocrinologist Rachel Gafni, M.D. volunteers her time to serve as medical director of Camp Possibilities, a special program for kids with diabetes. Held in Harford County in late July, the camp invites children ages eight to 15 for an overnight experience that some have referred to as “the best week of their lives.”

“Some kids with diabetes don’t know any other kids who have diabetes,” Gafni said. “Then they come to Camp Possibilities and they meet all of these people who understand – who are going through the same thing. Tremendous friendships are formed as the campers learn and have fun.”

The daily itinerary for Camp Possibilities is packed with all of the normal activities you would expect to see at any other summer camp, from swimming and sports to talent shows and songs around the campfire. Upon arrival, campers are asked to establish goals to identify what they hope to get out of their experience and what they hope to learn over the course of the week.

“Juvenile diabetes is complicated,” said Gafni. “We want to help these kids understand their disease and learn how they can best manage their blood sugar levels in an environment that is safe, fun and understanding.”

Grief Camps Get Kids Smiling Again

The loss of a loved one is tough for any person to handle, especially a child. Camp Nabi, available to kids ages six to 12, and Camp Phoenix Rising, for those 12 to 18, are both sponsored by Hospice of the Chesapeake and are designed especially for kids who are grieving due to a loss they’ve recently experienced. Individual and group-based therapeutic activities, outdoor adventures and healing arts are emphasized at both camps. Each camper is paired up with a “buddy” whose role is to offer support and to provide a relationship that can be counted on throughout the camp week.

“In many cases camp is the first time the child has been away from his or her family since the loss happened,” said Sandra Dillon

Similarly, Camp New Dawn is an overnight grief camp for kids ages seven to 17, offered by Hospice of Queen Anne’s County. According to Camp Director Rhonda Knotts, kids who have experienced loss can benefit tremendously simply by being around others who are dealing with the same issues.Anderson, director of communication for Hospice of the Chesapeake. “We strive to help these kids learn to trust again.”

“We give the campers a chance to write a letter to their loved one and then share it if they wish,” explained Knotts. “It’s a very special time of reflection and remembrance that helps the kids realize they are not alone. They also participate in a series of five support-group sessions at Camp New Dawn that address their issues as they adjust to the changes happening in their lives.”


Held annually at Camp Hidden Valley in beautiful Whitehall, Maryland, Camp FACE, which stands for Finding Acceptance in a Camping Environment, is an opportunity for kids to connect with other kids and adults who appreciate them for exactly who they are.

Each child who attends FACE, was born with a congenital facial difference. The goal of the camp is to provide a safe, supportive, and empowering environment for any child with a facial difference, while also having a really good time and building lasting friendships.  Medical and educational staffs attend camp for its entirety to ensure campers’ health and safety. Camp is offered for boys and girls ages 10-18 and is free of charge for all campers.

Camp FACE was founded in 1993 by Dr. Craig Vander Kolk, associate director of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Center at Mercy Medical Center.

“While we can do surgery and try to help the children, the important thing is how they deal with it internally,” Dr. Vander Kolk said. Camp Face does this by allowing the children to interact with others who are dealing with the same issue.


Camp Airways

Camp Possibilities

Camp Nabi and Camp Phoenix Rising

Camp New Dawn

Camp Face

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