“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!
Every year Easter Seals Greater Houston hires two interns to help run our amazing summer camps. This year we hired Lindsay and Maddie who are tasked with helping make sure our first ever virtual camps run smoothly. Read how the campers inspire these two hard working young women!
My name is Lindsay. This summer marks my fifth summer being involved with Easter Seals Greater Houston and my second summer as a Camp Intern! I began volunteering with Easter Seals summer of 2016, simply to get service hours. Little did I know at the time how much Easter Seals would transform my life. Interning last summer was hands down one of the best summers of my life. I learned so much and made the most amazing connections with those around me. In the fall, I’m headed to Texas A&M University to study Allied Health. Easter Seals has provided me with an amazing career trajectory as I hope to be either a speech pathologist or physical therapist in the future. Time will tell which one of these paths I choose to take!
While being stuck in quarantine, one of the things I have missed the most is camp. Even though this summer is going to look different than most, I know it will be a great one! The thing I’m most excited about is reuniting with all the amazing campers I met last summer! The friendships I have formed with so many campers are the reason why I keep coming back. The children I have met at camp have shaped me into the person I am today, and I am forever thankful. One of my favorite stories is an interaction I had with a camper named Angel. I met Angel at Camp Smiles last summer. Throughout the week at camp, I got to know Angel and became friends with him. At the end of the week, Angel told me camp was one of the best weeks of his life and that he was so excited to come back next year but only if I was there! It was such a small statement, but it meant so much. I cannot wait for another summer full of little moments like this.
My name is Maddie, I’m 19, and I’ve lived in Houston my whole life! I just finished my freshman year at Texas A&M University, where I’m studying Environmental Science. At Texas A&M, I’m involved in my sorority Kappa Alpha Theta and Aggie ACHIEVEMates. I first started volunteering with Easter Seals Greater Houston through my chapter of National Charity League. I’m very passionate about Easter Seals and serving those with disabilities. I’ve been to both Camp Smiles and Camp Buckaroo! One ofmy favorite camp memories is Karate Day with my buddy Christian at Camp Buckaroo, he is a pro at karate-chopping! I’m so excited to be a summer camps intern this year. I can’t wait to learn more about Easter Seals and hang out with the most awesome campers!
Congratulations Christian! You are a RockStar! So proud that you were chosen as a BHP Community Quarterback finalist! All finalists were recognized Sunday, December 8th at the Houston Texans game and ESGH will receive a $5000 donation as a result of Christian’s long-standing work with our Camp Program.
Christian has been volunteering with Easter Seals Greater Houston’scamp programs for over a decade. Starting when he was 17 years old, Christian started as a volunteer at Camp Smiles, a week-long overnight camp that serves children with cerebral palsy. For years, Christian served as the one on one counselor for Kamal, a non-verbal camper who adored the support and friendship Christian gave him. Over the years, Kamal and Christian became life-long friends, and they still make time to celebrate graduations and big birthdays together. In recent years, Christian has taken on the role of head counselor, meaning he is in charge of an entire cabin of campers and volunteers for the week of camp. Christian is an incredible leader, both in the most serious and silliest aspects of ensuring a safe and enriching camp experience.
Christian is an integral part of the Camp Smiles community. Campers and volunteers alike adore him, and he is a trusted and remembered part of everyone’s camp experience. Not only has he impacted the lives of hundreds of campers, Christian, now a teacher, has also started recruiting his students to volunteer for camp. Christian is the perfect role model for the new volunteers’ first year at camp. The energy and light-hearted spirit Christian brings to camp is infectious; his desire to bond with each camper and counselor radiates, setting a standard of friendship within the cabin. They all became like brothers, creating a group bond that wouldn’t be possible without Christian. One of his students even earned the award of “best new counselor” at the end of camp, for his concerted effort to bond with his camper and make his week unforgettable. This success was the most certainly a result of Christian’s decade-long dedication to building stronger communities.
The most admirable aspect of Christian’s volunteerism is how effortless his hard work comes across, though his success as a camp leader comes from years of experience and dedication. From jokes, to encouragement, to tears at the end of camp, Christian is intentional about supporting each camper and volunteer in his cabin. Christian’s ability to see each camper as just another kid, despite any disability, allows him to build a community of inclusion around him. In the truest version of leading by example, the volunteers Christians brought to Camp Smiles caught onto this environment of inclusion starting on day one. Not only did he teach this new generation of young men the basics of caregiving, Christian undoubtedly instilled in them the privilege and honor of serving others.
My name is Amanda Carter and I am a 2008 alumni of Easter Seals Greater Houston Camp Smiles Overnight Camp. I started attending Camp Smiles held at Camp For All in Brenham in the summer of 2001 after having attended Easter Seals Houston’s Camp Buckaroo day camp. After a little case of homesickness, I grew to love going to camp and the people I met while there. My favorite activity was the photography class I took every year it was offered where I became heavily involved in my current hobby of severe weather photography. I am still friends on Facebook with all of my camp “buddies,” without whom I could not have had nearly as much fun and laughed quite as hard. I also keep in touch with several of my fellow campers and they have become a great source of mentorship in regard to learning how to live independently.
I landed in Lubbock with the help of my parents and full time staff of personal care attendants after earning my Psychology degree at University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, Texas. Going to Texas Tech has always been a huge dream and having an opportunity to go there to get my law degree was practically nerdy nirvana. Going to law school requires a huge emotional support system; going to law school from a power wheelchair requires an army. There were many challenges, including hiring and firing many attendants, calling Mom and Dad to fill those attendants gaps, and calling friends and sorority sisters to cry about those dreaded classes, that were part of that journey. To my relief I made it to May of 2018 and became the fourth generation in my family to graduate as a Red Raider.
Since that time, I’ve landed at Matthew Harris Law in Lubbock after passing the July 2018 Bar Exam. I am currently practicing Family Law but I simultaneously maintain an interest in Special Needs Wills and Trusts and generally helping those like me find their path towards financial and physical independence. MHL has made a donation in my honor to Easter Seals of Greater Houston and that is so special! We collectively strive to present a model of employer-employee relations as it relates to working with community of people with disabilities. I have felt so welcomed in the firm where I started as an intern. Now as an attorney, I have learned so much about the law and myself through the accommodation and acceptance of my coworkers. Being successful starts with who you surround yourself with and, more importantly, how you define it. Only your definition matters. I am so excited to see where your definition takes you! Guns Up!
Ethan, one of our Easter Seals Houston 2018 Summer Camp Interns, has been Denium’s counselor for the past two years. Before that, they had been in the same cabin. Over the three years, they built an amazing bond that helped both of them grow in a way that will forever be remembered. Sadly, camp does not last forever. At Camp Smiles, campers graduate when they are 14 years old. The graduation ceremony is always a very emotional time, as counselors who have been with their campers for years, give a speech to say farewell to some of the most impactful people in their lives. There is rarely a dry eye in the audience. Here is the speech Ethan gave to Denium as he was graduating:
You have been a part of my life I will never forget. From the countless catch phrases such as “ooooooh you got a girlfrieeeend” to nicknaming Pablo as Pappadeux, your humor is a gift that will be remembered by all.
This is our second year together. Imagining a camp experience without you is just strange to me. While your presence overall is unforgettable, there are some specific instances that are especially amazing. Two years ago, we had a very emotional day together. We were outside of the art barn, and I decided to sneak up on you and pop a wheelie as a joke. Little did I know, you were already in an irritable mood because of something that had just happened. As soon as I did that, you reached back and swatted at me. My popping a wheelie with you was the tip of your iceberg. You were very upset. We got back to the cabin and the other counselors and I insist that you apologize. After a while, our friend, Lee, took you to the bathroom so y’all could have a talk about it and calm down. What happened next is something that will never fail to make my heart melt. I remember you coming in, looking very sad. You came up to me and said something very softly, too softly to hear. I ask what you said. You took a moment to collect yourself. Then, you pulled me in as tight as you could and profusely apologized to me and told me how sad you were. Never in my life have I experienced such raw sincerity. While you were crying and apologizing, I began to cry as well as I realized how sincere and caring of a person you truly are.
After a couple of years with you, I’ve noticed some changes in your personality. For one, during your first year, you were completely repulsed by the idea of interacting with the icky icky girls. Now this year, you can’t stay away from them. You went from poking fun at Lee for having a girlfriend by saying “oooooh, you got a girlfriend” every time Sophie walked by. Now, you proudly announce to your whole cabin that you indeed do “have a girlfriend”.
On a more serious note, the change that I have been most proud to witness is how much more open you’ve been with your caring personality. Spending time with you has given me the unique opportunity to experience not only the hilariously wild side of you that I call “what the snap Denium” but also the sweet and tender side of you. The side of you that holds Jacoby with care. The side that is well beyond content while tickling and smiling at Niko. It has been very impactful on me and has made me so happy. I’m so proud that I got to see you interact with the little ones so well. The way you interact with the little ones has made everyone who has been around you smile. The way you interact with Niko and Jacoby shows a new side of you that makes me so so proud. You are truly beyond your years with the way you patiently interact with these kids.
Camp has been a huge part of my life. I tell everyone I meet that there is nothing more I look forward to than this particular week. Every time I envision future camp experiences, I still picture you being a part of them. You’re an important part of this community we have and will be missed dearly.
I know that as you move on in life, you will continue to make others happy. Whether it be through your humor, or your humongous caring heart, you will make the lives of so many people much brighter. I hope that we keep in touch so that when I have kids one day, you can make them smile.
Easter Seals Greater Houston hosts several camps throughout the Greater Houston area and at Camp For All in Burton, Texas every summer. These camps serve children with disabilities, some of which are medically fragile, and their siblings. The days are filled with inclusive, accessible activities that all the children and volunteers enjoy. The following was written by one of our amazing 2018 summer camp interns.
Hi my name is Conlee Dull and I go to Memorial High School. This will be my 5th year volunteering with Easter Seals Greater Houston specifically their summer Camps and Recreation Program. I think by far one of my favorite memories from camp is the first time I ever gave a camper an award. Just to see the smile light up on their face and how proud their family was honestly made everything I did with my camper even more rewarding. Through volunteering I have learned that people with disabilities are the same as any other kids and they just want to have a good time without being judged just as any other kid would. Through volunteering with Easter Seals Greater Houston’sCamp and Recreation Program I have really developed a passion of working with people with special needs and I can’t wait to see how much it grows this summer when I intern!