“Abby, (also known to her fans as lode runner red) you’ve been in my cabin before, but this was the first time I had the honor to be your buddy. I was already excited for camp but the moment I saw you when you arrived you embraced me with the biggest hug and the brightest smile not even a mask could hide. In that moment my heart was full and I knew this was going to be an amazing weekend both of us would never forget.
We went on countless missions as lode runner red and her trusty side kick lode runner blue finding all the force fields around camp and unlocking them with our handy wrist bands, along with many other side quests. You continuously color the world with your creativity and bring joy to everyone you come across. You truly do not meet a stranger and you greet everyone with kindness. The world needs more lode runners like you. As you level up out of camp you will continue to amaze everyone around you because you are, as you told me to describe you: cute, adorable and great at digging holes. I can’t wait to see what your future holds, just this weekend you blew me away with how brave and enthusiastic you were. You welcomed every challenge with a smile and you were the first one to volunteer for each activity. You even held a bearded dragon for the first time and immediately declared that you definitely need one at home. Your fearless personality truly inspires me, and I know you can do anything you put your mind to. I’m so proud of you and I feel incredibly lucky that I have seen you blossom into the amazing person you are over the past years. Thank you for being my camp buddy this weekend but more importantly thank you for being my best lode runner friend for life. I love you!”
“Abbey Rav, where to even start. I’ve been struggling for a little while now to know where to even begin with this speech. First and foremost, its insane to me that we’re actually standing here today and that you are now graduating camp. Seriously, where did the time go? I swear it was just yesterday that I met you and your wonderful family at Camp Smiles orientation. Speaking of Camp Smiles orientation, something that I think sums you up well is this little story. We’re gonna throw it back to summer 2018, you showed up to orientation with long hair and arrived at camp 14 days later with a new haircut. One that your mom made sure to inform me, you cut yourself… If this doesn’t sum you up, I don’t know what does. Just like your hair, you like to keep life exciting and that is something I love about you. I hope you never ever lose that light within you that allows you to love others and love life so much.
Talk about loving life… Do you remember the first night of camp our very first year? It was a carnival in the pavilion and you ate 5 servings of cotton candy. I honestly have no idea how I ever got you to fall asleep that night, but I think I sat on your bed telling you the same bedtime stories about Timmy the Mouse that my dad used to tell me when I was little. Pretty sure that night must’ve been when you decided camp is the place for you, and I honestly think that same night is when I decided this is the place for me. As a lot of people know, this place holds a very special place in my heart. At this point, loving camp has become a personality trait of mine. However, an important thing to note is that my reason for loving this place so much is the campers. You being the very first camper that created that love for me. Abbey Rav you will always be “my camper” even long after you graduate today.
Our time as buddies looked a little different than most pairings around here go, but I can say I wouldn’t have traded our friendship over the last four years for the world. In 2018, I was your buddy. In 2019, I was the intern, so we were at camp together, but I wasn’t in your cabin. In 2020, well, we all know what happened in 2020. In 2021, I had the privilege of cabin leading your family as Camp For All staff during Smiles Family Camp. And now, here we are full circle, buddies once again! I think it’s pretty cool that we’ve experienced camp together in so many ways but here we are, right back where we started. I want you to know that even though you are graduating today, I will always be here for you, and I hope that you are in my life for so many years to come.
You have grown into such a helpful, kind, and joyful person and I am so blessed that you are a part of my life. The three adjectives I just listed are not something I take lightly, so I want to expand a little bit on each. Helpful. If you know Abbey, you know she is always looking for ways to help. Whether that is holding the door open for your cabin or walking up another volunteer and asking if there’s any way you can help out or simply offering to take other’s trays at the end of a meal. Know that your actions do not go unnoticed. Kind. Abbey is kind to everyone she meets. Always asking if others are okay and checking in on her fellow campers is something Abbey does without ever being asked. A true heart of gold in this respect. Lastly, joyful. Abbey, you sincerely radiate so much light and joy in literally all that you do. Your smile and laugh are both contagious and you never fail to brighten my day. I am so proud of how much you’ve grown and I cannot wait to continue to watch you grow.
Last night, Abbey and I were talking at dinner and she was telling me that she tried out another camp a few years ago, but it wasn’t for her. She said she didn’t fit in at said other camp and I quote, “This place is where I fit in. It’s good for me. I maybe even wanna be a counselor one day.” Personally, I like this aspiration a whole lot. Keep dreaming big and finding the places and people that are good for you sweet Abbey. I know that there is so much left in store for you and I cannot wait to see what your future holds. I love you!”
Last month I had the amazing opportunity of volunteering with Easter Seals Greater Houston at Camp M.O.S.T.! The camp is a weekend long retreat for teens with disabilities to socialize, gain confidence and be comfortable just the way they are. Over the course of a weekend I was able to build meaningful connections with the teens in my cabin as we shared our interests and unique experiences with each other. Because of the smaller size of the group we were all able to share meals together and spend more time talking with each other in between activities! It was a great chance to set down the phone for a weekend and be present. I found my time at Camp M.O.S.T. to be empowering and uplifting, but most importantly really fun! I am looking forward to the Fall Camp Smiles in November!
I have to give credit to my discovery of Easter Seals Greater Houston and this exceptional program to my sister Dr. Margaret Markham, who volunteered at Camp Smiles from 2000-2007, my brother-in-law Dr. Travis Markham, who volunteered at Camp Smiles from 2000-2008, and my brother Michael Ryan, who volunteered at Camp Smiles from 2002-2009. Upon moving to Houston for college my siblings encouraged me to get involved with Easter Seals Greater Houston and themselves have stayed active through donations. As a family we believe that Easter Seals Greater Houston is an incredible organization that touches close to our hearts! -Mary Kate Ryan
Our biggest in-person program of the summer was Smiles Family Camp: a camp for children with cerebral palsy ages 6-15 and their families! We hosted this camp during the first week of July at Camp For All; it was wonderful to see the whole families get involved in all the unique activities Camp For All has to offer: fishing, canoeing, horseback riding, zip lining, karaoke, and so much more! This program was an awesome way to continue hosting summer recreation, while still remaining socially distanced from other families! Watch Rikki & Nico’s testimony about the impact Easter Seals Camps have had on their family!
Another in-person program we hosted was Respite Camp: a morning respite program for children with disabilities ages 6-14! BIG THANKS to The Caroline School for sharing their wonderful and accessible facilities with us; we were able to host this program when school was not in session! Campers were paired 1:1 with a volunteer, who acted as their buddy and helped lead them through activities like arts & crafts, science experiments, and a fan favorite—scavenger hunt! Our campers were so happy to see their old camp buds again, and receive individualized attention from our caring volunteers. We wrapped up the summer with a talent show and award ceremony, a tradition from our usual day camp, Camp Buckaroo!
We also hosted a virtual summer camp program, so campers could still have fun summer programming if they weren’t ready to come back in-person yet! For this program, we partnered with Project Sunshine, another awesome non-profit organization in the Houston area! Project Sunshine brought their friendly and welcoming volunteers to lead our campers through online trivia games, at-home scavenger hunts, and so much more. We met every other Friday throughout the summer!
I’m so thankful for our joyous campers and hard-working volunteers that attended our programs this summer. Thanks to our incredible supporters The Carter Family, In Memory of Sam Davison, The Dull Family, Enrico and Sandra di Portanova Charitable Foundation, The George Foundation, The Moody Endowment, Prosperity Bank, Heather & Mike Simpson, Texas Children’s Hospital, United Way of Greater Houston, and The WithMerci Foundation for making Camp possible! We look forward to seeing you all this fall for more fun & games with Easter Seals Greater Houston’sCamp and Recreation Programs!
My name is Maddie Farrell, I’m 20 years old, and I have lived in Houston my entire life. I’m a rising junior at Texas A&M University, where I’m studying Environmental Science in hopes to work in the sustainability field. I am involved in my sorority and Aggie ACHIEVEMates, a student organization that supports the students with disabilities in the ACHIEVE program at Texas A&M. I’m very passionate about Easter Seals Greater Houston’s mission and advocating for people with disabilities. I first started volunteering with Easter Seals Greater Houston in high school through my chapter of National Charity League. I’ve volunteered at both Camp Smiles and Camp Buckaroo and I loved my experiences at both of them. I had no idea how great an impact Easter Seals Greater Houston and their clients would have on my life when I first volunteered. I have met so many amazing kids, made so many sweet friendships, and learned a lot about myself and what it means to make a difference. I’m beyond excited to serve as a camps intern for the second year in a row and I can’t wait to see the kids in person this year!
This wonderful mini success story was written by Camp M.O.S.T. volunteer, Darrell, on his most recent application for virtual Camp M.O.S.T. taking place this month.
“I’ve had the blessing to experience both in-person and online Camp MOST. Although one might not be ideal as the other, I can’t express how much I’ve enjoyed them both. I’ve learned that what makes Camp MOST special isn’t the location, the ice cream, or the 2 hours of sleep. It’s the campers, the counselors, and the dancing to music like nothing matters that makes Camp MOST special to me. I wouldn’t change a thing about our camp!!”
This July, we hosted two weeks of Virtual Camp! This program was open to all our returning and previously registered campers from both Camp Smiles and Camp Buckaroo. Campers were able to customize their “camp box,” meaning they got to pick out all the crafts, classes, and activities they wanted to participate in! For two weeks, we met every day over Zoom to complete the camp box activities we had delivered to their houses. We had so many smiles and laughs while completing new activities!
A lot of our campers’ favorite activity was the talent show! We had so many campers show off their unique talents and awesome skills. Our campers were incredibly supportive of each other, and cheered on their friends as they performed their act. Many of these campers had never met in person before this week; some were completely new to Easter Seals Great Houston’scamps, some had attended different weeks of Camp Buckaroo, and some had only previously attended Camp Smiles. It was heart-warming to see how friendly and supportive these campers were after just knowing each other for one week! I can’t wait for them to meet in-person next year.
Virtual Camp was very different from our usual summer camps. Moving things online limited our activity options and ways we could interact, but I truly feel that the atmosphere of camp was still there. For those two weeks, I was greeted with smiling faces and campers that were ready to start their day with energizers. Our days at camp were an opportunity for these campers to socialize with their camp friends and staff; they were able to feel included and encouraged by individuals sharing the same challenges as them. With the pandemic continuing to limit social interaction, it’s important for these kids to have a place to belong. Easter Seals will continue to provide programs like this to our campers throughout the fall!