Summer camp is a traditional American childhood experience, and often a pivotal one. Most people have fond memories of long games of Marco Polo in the pool, roasting s’mores, tie-dyed shirts at arts and crafts, the mess kits, bunk beds, and long games of kickball. Kids living with or impacted by HIV, however, do not always have these opportunities. Although they are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act, HIV-positive children or the kids of HIV-positive parents often endure discrimination and alienation at school, and generally deal with more serious health and financial issues than children their age normally do.
Thankfully there are a number of great programs providing these kids a safe place to, well, act like a kid during summer break. Here are our top 20 camps and programs — some specifically for kids, others for whole families, but all that offer a web of support and friendship for kids impacted by HIV.
Camp Kids Haven, Maryland
Camp Kids Haven is a weeklong residential summer camp in Jefferson, Maryland. Kids aged 7 to 13 living with or affected by HIV/AIDS can go swimming, play games, do arts and crafts, and have adventures in the woods. The free program is run by the Lutheran Social Services/National Capital Area’s Youth Haven Camp and Retreats to try to give kids a chance to be the same as any other summer camper.
Youth Haven Camp and Retreats also offers Teen Haven Retreats for teens aged 14 to 18. Three weekend retreats are held for kids throughout the year at different locations to provide an opportunity “for creative self-expression as they plan for their future as young adults.”
Camp Care, California
Cynthia Karraker started Camp Care, run by her nonprofit All About Care, in 1996 to provide a retreat for the families of women and children living with HIV/AIDS. Located on a Yosemite, Calif. campground, Camp Care provides a free four-day retreat to give families, who are often consumed by medical issues and expenses, a chance to have fun.
One Heartland, Minnesota, New York, and California
One Heartland has three camps for those living with and impacted by HIV/AIDS: Camp Heartland, Birch Family; Camp Hollywood Heart in Malibu, Calif.; and oneFutures Youth Retreat and Conference.
Camp Heartland is a free, progressive summer camp for kids aged 7 to 15, for those living with or affected by HIV/AIDS. At their Willow River, Minn. location, kids can have fun with a community of people who understand what their daily life is like.
Birch Family Camp is a free program for families affected by HIV/AIDS from New York City. While kids experience the fun of a traditional summer camp in Carmel, New York, parents can meet others dealing with similar problems and challenges.
Hollywood Heart and One Heartland partner together to host Camp Hollywood Heart in Malibu, Calif. for one week in August. Youth impacted by HIV or AIDS focus on an area of the arts and receive guidance from a professional on how to attain their dreams.
OneFutures Youth Retreat and Conference are for teens and young adults aged 16 to 22 who are impacted by HIV or AIDS. The long-weekend retreat provides life-training skills by pairing each camper up with a mentor to help them create long-term goals. Mentors and students keep in contact throughout the year to help meet these goals.
Camp Kindle, Nebraska and California
Camp Kindle isn't just one camp, it's actually six different programs: Hollywood, Teen Adventure, West, Midwest, and Day Trips. The 15-year-old camp, which was founded by a 21-year-old University of Nebraska student who still serves as executive director, now provides free care for children who are living with or impacted by HIV or who have lost a family member to AIDS. Activities in all the programs, which are held in California and Nebraska, are aimed at providing kids with a sense of empowerment and self-confidence. There's also Project Kindle’s Life Skills Retreat (for youth ages 16-20) and mini-sessions for California campers that'll have kids under 16 heading to Hollywood Museum and Knott's Berry Farm.
Camp Sunrise, Ohio
Every year, more than 600 kids aged 6 to 17 attend Camp Sunrise to make friendships, try new things, and have fun within an encouraging community and supportive environment specifically for Ohio children with HIV or AIDS. Camp activities, such as arts and crafts, swimming, music, horseback riding, and late-night campfires, back up an environment in which kids and camp counselors openly address the role HIV and AIDS plays in their lives.
Camp AmeriKids, Connecticut
Camp AmeriKids is located in Stamford, Conn. to provide a safe space for inner city kids aged 7 to 15 who have HIVor AIDS and sickle cell disease. For two eight-day sessions, kids enjoy a variety of activities from boating to African drums and special activities such as Carnival Day, featuring cotton candy, game booths, and waterslides, and a Luau dance. Also offered is a year-round Leader-in-Training program for 16- and 17-year-olds.
For one week in August, Camp Dreamcatcher hosts children aged 5 to 17 whose lives have been impacted by HIV or AIDS. The free camp offers traditional summer camp activities such as horseback riding, scavenger hunts, boating, and a much-anticipated talent show. It also offers a safe space where kids can express "feelings of fear, sadness, and anger with adults who understand and with children who may share their burdens," thanks in part to the large medical staff that includes professionals in the fields of psychotherapy and music/art therapy.
Camp Laurel, California and Canada
Founded nearly 20 years ago, Camp Laurel is now broken into four different camps: Winter Family Camp, Summer and Teen Camp, Counselor-in-Training Program, and Camp Laurel Canada. All of these camps make it their goal to teach kids independence and self-confidence through new friendships and shared experiences in a safe environment where "children and youth can forget their illness and enjoy life."
One recent summer camp, for example, was a Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp, where kids discovered their inner rock stars while dancing, singing, making music videos, tie-dying, swimming, and doing a ropes challenge.