This week’s blog is written by Sheryl Baarda, the nurse manager of our OB department. This story resonates with me as I spent many years as a camper and counselor for a church camp in Northwest Iowa. Sheryl tells a wonderful story of her time as a nurse for a camp for kids with a real need for such an experience. Just one more example of the amazing professionals I am honored to work with every day.
Camp Nurse? Who? Me?
That’s what I was thinking the first time I headed out to become a camp nurse for an Angel Tree camp. This camp is for children who have some big challenges in their young lives. These children have a parent in some kind of correctional facility or halfway house situation.
I am a person who attends church each Sunday, sits in the pew, listens to the sermon, and then goes on my merry way. Oh, sure, in the past I have been a Sunday School teacher, a family night teacher, and taken a few photos for the church. But as my career as a nurse leader began to change, so did my working hours. I always had the excuse that I had to work nights, weekends, and holidays, so I didn’t have time for those church activities.
For the past year or so, I had been having the feeling that I needed to do more to give back to the world. About that time, I read an article in one of my nursing journals about mission work. It stated if you aren’t quite ready to make a big leap, start small. Look for something around home. The next Sunday, a flyer for an Angel Tree Camp located near my home was in the bulletin. It was like God was saying, “Okay, Sheryl, you can’t get much closer to home than this.” I sent them an e-mail and the rest fell into place.
My job as a camp nurse includes lots of duties. I help check kids in, take stock of those kids on medications, and set up the meds for the week. Throughout the week, I dispense medications and care for bumps, bruises, headaches, tummy aches, rashes, and more. This year, it seemed like I was extremely busy, handing out band-aids right and left. I have found that a lot of the aches are more a cry for attention than anything else. The campers are more in need of a hug and some love.
Some of these kids have behavioral issues. They don’t know how to deal with their emotions, including their anger. When you begin to hear some of the stories of their home life you can understand why. Some undergo emotional and physical abuse. One little boy in particular had a smile that melts your heart. He also has a terrifying scowl. When I learned he had suffered abuse (having his mouth taped shut with duct tape, for example.) I began to understand some of the emotions he was displaying.
I’ve been doing this job for a few years and I am always amazed at the counselors and how they deal with these kids. They show them unconditional love. Most of the counselors are college and high school students. They take on a tough job. They are with these kids 24 hours a day for a solid week. It is wonderful to see the bond that takes place. Some of these kids don’t get attention, love, or hugs at home. The counselors are constantly holding hands, carrying the small ones, and giving piggy-back rides to one camper or another.
These kids LOVE to sing! They radiate joy. They also love to listen to and act out Bible stories. It is awesome to see 45 kids sitting quietly, mesmerized by the story. It is so quiet you can hear a pin drop.
I hate the last day of camp. It is sad because the week has flown by so quickly. I also hate it because some of the kids don’t want to leave and go back to their home life. They cry and cling. It is heartbreaking. I just want to fix it for them, and I know I can’t. It brings tears to my eyes each time I think about it. When I arrived home after my first camp experience, my husband Craig asked how it went. It was at least 15 minutes before I could even answer him for all the emotions I was experiencing. The first words out of my mouth were, “Our grandkids are so blessed.” They don’t know how wonderful and easy their lives are compared to other kids. Angel Tree Camp provides these kids with a week of love, joy, fun, and adventure. It is a great mission in my own backyard. I highly recommend that everyone find a mission to support and spend time with. It can be hard work, but the rewards are amazing.
Sheryl Baarda, RN, nurse manager, Kintzinger Women’s Health Center