The Painted Turtle Fights Back After Forest Fires!
The Painted Turtle, an L.A. camp for kids with serious illnesses, was recently affected by the fires that swept through the Angeles National Forest.
We spoke to the camp's development specialist, Jessica Santos, and a former Painted Turtle counselor, and SweetBeatTV host, Alex Powers, about the camp and what we can do to help!
The Painted Turtle has been around since 2004, with 173 acres of camp ground and a state-of-the art medical facility. The camp is open year-round to kids aged 6-17 with disabilities, and more than 24,000 children and their families have attended the camp in its nine-year history.
"The Painted Turtle recognizes that families and children with serious medical conditions face particular physical, emotional, and financial challenges," said Jessica Santos, Development Specialist at The Painted Turtle. "Through our innovative and unique year-round camp programs, The Painted Turtle seeks to inspire children with serious medical conditions to become their greater selves."
At camp, the children get to relax and have fun, and get to meet other kids who face the same challenges they do. For some, this means getting to leave the hospital to go to camp.
Campers make long-lasting friendships with supportive friends, plus face new challenges. All the while, they have access to health facilities.
"This allows the campers to be surrounded by buddies who are all going through the exact same thing as them," Alex Powers said. "It makes everyone feel normal, and they get to act "normal" too!"
They get to try out archery, boating, horseback riding, rock climbing, rope courses and more, often for the first time in their lives.
"The magic around The Painted Turtle is addictive," Alex said. "The kids have never been happier, and as a result, neither have you."
Alex Powers' family friends helped Paul Newman build The Painted Turtle. She visited the camp for the first time during a summer session.
"I've never had more fun in an hour — truly," Alex said. "From the dancing to the laughter to the chanting and singing, I was completely hooked."
The next summer, she returned as a camp counselor and volunteer at the camp. She's returned every summer since to spend her summers in the cabin with the young campers.
"It is, by far, the most rewarding time of my life," she said.
"Camp is a well-respected delivery model for affecting positive change in chronically ill children," Santos explained. "Over the years we have watched thousands of children develop confidence, courage, and strength, thereby increasing their chances for more positive medical outcomes and encouraging them to overcome personal challenges."
This year, however, camp had to be canceled. On May 30, a massive fire started burning through the Angeles National Forest. The fire spread through the Lake Hughes area, where The Painted Turtle is located.
The land all around The Painted Turtle, including 90 percent of the property's vegetation, were scorched, but luckily, most of the camp's major buildings were left standing and intact.
Unfortunately, the buildings suffered major smoke damage, and the amount of plant life destroyed will require a massive clean-up. The air quality was also affected severely by the fire.
The camp was forced to cancel all of its summer sessions.
"As a result, for the safety of the campers, the camp has had to make the very difficult decision to cancel it's summer to allow this recovery process to take place," Santos said.
For campers, family, and staff alike, this was a tough time.
"This camp was these kids' worlds, something to look forward to," Alex said, "and a summer without it seems just impossible to me."
The families that planned to attend camp at The Painted Turtle this summer were placed in other camp programs so they could still enjoy themselves this season.
However, this is by no means the end of The Painted Turtle.
"While The Painted Turtle had no choice but to make this very difficult decision, it is totally committed to returning with more hope, more fun, and more laughter than ever before," Santos said.
Next year, The Painted Turtle will be 10 years old. With some help from the community, the campsite will be up and running again and better than ever!
"In 2014 The Painted Turtle will celebrate it's 10 year anniversary!" Santos said. "With the reopening of camp and the anniversary The Painted Turtle plans to celebrate in a big way!"
Renovating the camp will be a big task. Over the next three months, the landscape will be cleaned up and re-seeded, and the buildings and ventilation systems will be cleaned. The campgrounds must undergo a strict cleaning process to make sure that everything is safe for its campers.
As the camp rebounds from the fire, they are accepting donations at www.thepaintedturtle.org/.
"The campers and families who attend The Painted Turtle have taught us so much about overcoming life's challenges and how to remain positive and persevere," Santos said. "We know that the physical camp will return with time, but the magic and spirit of camp lives in our hearts wherever we are."