Camp teaches kids to not be ashamed of HIV

From JournalStar.com

FREMONT – As a counselor at Camp Kindle, Jim Ageton has heard his share of sad stories from campers.

One told about his brother not being allowed to attend a certain school. Others talked about being bullied.

While their stories have been different, the campers all share one thing in common: They are infected with or affected by HIV or AIDS.

“They have enough to deal with already, then you add this stigma and they feel like they’ve got to be inside themselves,” said Ageton, who lives in Lincoln and is in his second year as a counselor at the camp. “To be here and see them just let loose is awesome.”

Camp Kindle, in its 11th year in Nebraska, allows children ages 7-15 to attend a week of summer camp at no charge. Their travel expenses also are covered, said Camp Kindle director Nichol Costa.

Last week’s camp, which ended Sunday, took place at Camp Rivercrest near Fremont. Costa said it drew a record 109 campers.

And while the campers got to do many typical summer camp activities like swimming, volleyball and arts and crafts, they also attended educational sessions on how to better deal with the effects of HIV and AIDS.

“On the surface our camp looks like just any other camp,” Costa said. “However, we realized that our kids really wanted to talk about this disease and how it affected their lives. And while they knew that HIV affected them, they didn’t know the details about it.”

That led to the educational sessions and to the formation of SPEAK OUT – Sharing Personal Experiences and Knowledge: Our Unique Truth. In those sessions, campers were able to share how the disease has impacted their lives.

“They don’t have to be ashamed about the disease that has kind of plagued their lives,” Costa said. “This is a safe place and they will not feel the stigma of HIV and AIDS here.”

Michael, a 17-year-old from Denver, began coming to Camp Kindle 10 years ago. He did not know it at first, but he found out his mother was infected with the HIV virus.

Michael enjoyed the camp so much he now is in the counselor-in-training program. He hopes to return to the camp as part of its support staff.

“They’ve given me so much and I want to be able to give back,” Michael said. “I’ve received so much that I want to be able to give back to the campers that are coming in.”

Reggie also is hoping to become part of the support staff. The 17-year-old from Chicago has been infected with HIV since he was born.

He said Camp Kindle has helped change his outlook on the disease.

“This camp shows me the leadership I have and shows me to take pride in what you have,” Reggie said. “I’m just glad to be alive. It’s taught me not to be ashamed.”


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