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Camp opens doors for kids with serious illnesses

August 21, 2013

By the Rev. Boyce A. Bowdon*

Twelve-year-old Carly wanted to go to camp, but she was “a little nervous” about it, says her mother, Holly Woods.

“Carly was born with congenital heart defects and had one extra digit on each hand and foot. She’s had 25 or 30 operations, including five open-heart surgeries,” Woods explained.

Her mother said Carly never had been away overnight from her family in Ada, Okla., and the camp was five days. Woods talked about some of Carly’s additional concerns. About 200 children were scheduled to be there, and Carly didn’t know any of them. She wondered whether they would stare at her and whisper behind her back about her scars, because some students at her school did.

Carly and her parents heard about Camp Cavett during frequent visits to the Children’s Hospital at the University of Oklahoma Medical Center in Oklahoma City.

“We knew it was especially for kids 10 to 18 with life-threatening and chronic illnesses like cancer, heart conditions, kidney disease, and lung problems,” Woods said. “At least 30 doctors, pediatric nurses and other medical personnel, plus more than 300 adult volunteers, would be there to take care of any emergency.”

Making new friends

But, she says, what eased her mind most was that she knew and trusted the hospital’s chaplain, the Rev. Danny Cavett, who had designed the camp to meet the special needs of children like Carly.

“My husband and I have always encouraged Carly to try new things,” Woods said. “So we encouraged her to go to camp if she wanted to.”

In mid-July Carly went to Camp Cavett at Cross Point United Methodist Camp in southeast Oklahoma.

Her cabin counselor, Haley Moore, said Carly made friends with everyone she met at the camp. “No one was a stranger to her.”

Moore says the girls filled the cabin with laughter.

“Instead of being embarrassed about their scars and trying to hide them — like they had back home — they were showing them to one another and sharing what helped them cope with suffering and other tough situations.”

Something for everyone

Cross Point Camp, which is on the banks of Lake Texoma, has a variety of facilities and activities for Camp Cavett, says Randy McGuire, director of Oklahoma United Methodist Conference camps.

“There’s something for everyone, regardless of their physical limitations. We have archery, arts and crafts, ropes courses, and rappelling. One day during the camp, a fishing professional came and helped the kid’s fish on Lake Texoma. They caught 400 pounds, plenty for us to have a big fish fry that night.”

Carly’s favorite event was Cavett’s version of American Idol.

“She sat on the front row of the packed auditorium,” Moore said. “Every time a contestant finished performing, she jumped up and cheered for them. And, when her turn came, she sang a song she had composed during the camp. The words expressed what she and other Camp Cavett kids were experiencing: Acceptance.”

‘God will always be with us’

Her song also affirmed what Carly’s parents had taught her and what Cavett had emphasized in his daily challenges: “We will always have problems, but God will always be with us and give us what we need to solve them.”

When Carly finished singing, the kids gave her a standing ovation.

Carly tied for first place among the 55 contestants.

“I am so fortunate to have met Carly,” Moore said. “I hope she knows the positive impact she had on me and so many others during our short time at the camp.”

‘Can’t wait until next summer’

Carly’s mother says her daughter came home filled with confidence and enthusiasm.

“I think she had the time of her life. She and her new friends talk on the phone and send emails and texts all the time. She and one of the girls have already made plans to be at one another’s birthday parties.”

How does Carly feel about Camp Cavett?  With a big smile she says, “I can’t wait until next summer and I get to go back and see my friends!”

Carly is only one of the several thousand young people who have gone to Camp Cavett since it began in 1994.

“From the very beginning,” Cavett said, “the Oklahoma Conference has not only provided us the excellent facilities at Cross Point Camp, they have helped us recruit volunteers and raise funds. The conference camp director, Doug McGuire, has worked with us at every session.”

Cavett’s ministry has grown steadily across the years. It is now known as Cavett Kids Foundation. In addition to the camp at Cross Point, there are five other camps, and 25 special events. Together, they minister to more than 10,000 children and their families.

Every camp and program is provided without charge to the children and their families.  The ministry’s annual operating budget exceeds $400,000. Cavett Kids Foundation raises the funds.

Needs remain the same

While there have been many changes, the ministry is basically the same as it always has been, Cavett says. Why?  Because children with life-threatening illnesses still have the same basic needs. They still need to develop the same three assets:

1. Connections with other children who have life-threatening conditions

2. Coping skills to help them with physical pain and suffering as well as anxiety because of the uncertainties of life and the high probability of an early death

3. Character to help them experience meaning, purpose, hope, and peace

“Everything we do at Cavett Kids is designed to help children develop connections, coping, and character,” says Cavett. “We call them our ‘3 C’s.'”

Medical science is making steady progress in the treatment of life-threatening diseases, Cavett pointed out. “Today, kids with chronic illnesses are living longer. And by mastering the ‘3 C’s’ they will experience not only a longer life, but a more fulfilling life.”

*Bowdon is a retired communicator for the Oklahoma Annual (regional) Conference and editor of the conference newspaper. News media contact: Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or mailto:newsdesk@umcom.org.