Liam McDougall: Camp Counselor and Leadership Staff (2008-present)

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I didn’t know anything about Camp or One Heartland until early 2008 when I received a skype call from the then-new Camp Director Jill Rudolph and, as they say, the rest is history! But if you really want to hear the rest of it I applied through an organization called ‘Camp America’, a middle man of sorts where I filled in my skills and experience, what I was looking for in a camp and then camps in America would search and hire staff to help bring a little European flair to their summer experiences.

I still to this day can’t believe my luck when I received that call and was offered the chance to come and volunteer with One Heartland. It’s not always easy and the work is long and draining no matter how much fun I had but it continues to fill my memories with happiness and laughter. Proving time and again to be one of the most worthwhile causes I’ve come across.  So much so that I continued to return year after year trying to help in any way I could, to keep having fun and putting smiles on faces and honestly, to see my newly adopted ‘family’ grow and just be happy!

“One of the greatest pleasures I got from camp was the chance to see these campers grow into young adults, into staff members and into my brothers and sisters who still impress me to this day.”

I’ve just booted up my hard drive to try and help narrow down my ‘favourite’ memory but it’s just not possible, and it’s not fair to you reading to take up days and days of your time filling you with them but I can safely give you a little of what to expect.

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Susan Leckey: One Heartland Major Gifts Officer/National Giving (1993-present) 

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I found out about camp in 1993 after reading an article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. The article featured a story about the 1st child in Minnesota to go public with her HIV status and mentioned the start of a camp for kids living with HIV/AIDS. At the time, I was working as a respiratory therapist in a hospital and had been working with people living/dying with HIV/AIDS since it became a public “threat”. I was immediately taken aback as I had not worked with children living with HIV/AIDS and knew I had to get involved in the camp.

Neil Willenson, a college student, befriended a young boy with HIV after reading an article that he was being discriminated against in WI and was not allowed to go to camp because of his HIV status…he was 5 years old. Neil, along with friends from college, raised enough money to rent a YWCA camp he had gone to as a child. Little did he know that it would start an incredible journey which to this day continues to provide unconditional love and acceptance.  That said, it forever changed my life!

“We have never wavered from creating a place where everyone feels accepted and appreciated!”

My favorite camp memory is being a part of the first Journey of Hope tour in 1995 which started in NYC and ended in Orlando, FL…it lasted three weeks. At the end of the tour, the kids were invited to be  grand marshals in the Disney parade. It was an exciting way to celebrate all they had accomplished. We spoke at universities, high schools and businesses. Anyone that witnessed these eight children bravely share their stories were astounded. So many people were uneducated about HIV/AIDS at that time and either reached out with compassion or stood back in fear. Thankfully for the most part it was compassion.

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Shiann Chambers: Participant and counselor (2012-present) 

Shiann
My mom’s doctor at the county hospital told her about multiple camps and organizations that served families impacted by HIV/AIDS. After a while we moved into Chicago House and Social Services Agency which helped us get the connection to One Heartland. A year after being told my mom was HIV+, I finally came to camp.

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The Brooks Sisters: Kelsi: Counselor and Nurse (2014-Present); Sydni: Counselor (2015-present)

Kelsi and Sydni

Kelsi: The first time around I heard about camp from someone who I was going to college with and she had brought it up as one of the best experiences of her life. I was looking for something to do over the summer – I didn’t think that it would turn into such a huge part of my life story. I officially graduated from nursing school in May (of 2017) and part of the reason that I decided to start nursing school was because of camp. I worked with Susan (a longtime nurse at camp) here and there and was really interested in what she was doing. I did have an idea that I wanted to go to nursing school before coming to camp, it just secured that. Now I’m here and I’m a nurse and I feel like it’s a very full-circle turn of events to have something ignite that in you and then come back to the place that ignited it.

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Seleena Jackson

Junior counselor (2015-present) 

Seleena Jackson

My mom was in the AIDS foundation in Chicago, so she had a connection with certain other people and they told her about the different camps for people that were impacted by HIV and AIDS.

I started off three years ago here. I’m a JC (Junior counselor) now. I wanted to be a counselor because I’ve seen the difference that counselors have on you when I was a camper. So I just wanted to do the same thing for other campers.

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Carol Nelson

Club Meds volunteer (2007-present) 

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I became involved in camp through my son Nate Henry who was a counselor for several years, starting in 2006. Later my son David was also a camp counselor for several summers.

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Dvonte Johnson

Camp participant, Leader-in-Training, and counselor (2002-present)

I’ve been coming to camp since 2002 and I started at the Malibu camp when it was called Camp Pacific Heartland [it’s now called Camp Hollywood HEART] and then I came here [to Willow River] as an LIT and I’ve come here ever since. My favorite camp memory would have to be my first year doing the AP, which is the adventure program here at Camp Heartland. I think that just got me to realize how how much of an impact camp has on both me and the kids who come. I think that was the best week of my camp life.

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Joan Carchedi

Fundraising and office volunteer (2010-present)

Joan

One Heartland Founder Neil Willenson brought some campers to my place of work to share their stories. Having been diagnosed with HIV in 1992, I connected with them right away. There was no permanent camp yet. My employer sponsored and supported Camp Heartland for several years. I became very involved volunteering for fundraising events, such as the Heart and Soul Concerts.

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JoJo Turtle-Morales and Aysha Turtle

Camp participant (2013-present) and participant mother (2004-present)

JoJo

JoJo started going to camp when he was 7 years old. He really wanted to go because his older brother and sister had attended Camp previously. Both of them had come home with stories about how great it is. I (mom) found out about the camp through NM AIDS services years ago when they still had funding to reach out to people with HIV. The agency has had to downscale quite drastically the past few years. Other HIV positive parents may not even know about the Camp opportunity.

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Nile Sandeen

Camper and Leader-In-Training, 1993-99, 2001-02
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Neil founded the camp after meeting my family and seeing the difficulty it was for HIV+ children to both deal with stigma in their daily life and to have normal childhood experiences like attending summer camp. My brother and I were the first campers to be registered. Neil dubbed me “Mr. Campheartland” (a term that massaged my young ego wonderfully). Thus I became a regular camper throughout my childhood, and also spent many days of my childhood participating in the Journey of Hope program, speaking at businesses, but especially schools and universities all around the country (though mostly in the Midwest). One Heartland was, therefore, a significant part of my childhood, not just in the summer (or the brief winter sessions they used to have), but throughout the year. I also ended up spending many hours at the old Camp office which was located in Milwaukee where I lived.

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Neil Willenson

Camp Founder, CEO, and Resident Noodle from 1993-2010

Neil and Nile

My life changed profoundly in 1991 when I met 5-year-old Nile Sandeen and his big brother, 7-year-old Sean. After witnessing the slings and arrows of HIV discrimination, cruelty and sadness, I was motivated to help create Camp Heartland, a true safe haven for children like Nile and Sean who were affected by HIV and AIDS.

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What’s your favorite camp memory?

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