HACKETTSTOWN—Sixty children ages 8 through 16 gathered together for a week of fun at the Arthritis Foundation, New Jersey Chapter’s Camp CHAT (Children Have Arthritis Too). Camp CHAT is sponsored by the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, New Jersey Lodge, a fraternal organization that does charitable work with various organizations.
The event was held at Easter Seals Camp Merry Heart in Hackettstown from July 26 through July 31. Campers participated in a variety of activities including zip lining, a climbing tower, arts and crafts, boating and swimming. Campers also learned about the importance of taking care of their arthritis and keeping themselves healthy through a series of educational presentations.
“Camp has been really fun. I’ve made a lot of new friends, but most importantly I’ve learned about the responsibility I have to properly take care of my body,” said sixteen-year-old Rubin Garcia, who was diagnosed with arthritis at age 13.
The best part of the experience for campers was meeting other children who are just like them. Although rheumatic disease affects nearly 9,000 children in New Jersey alone, many of these children do not have the opportunity to meet others their age that also have arthritis.
“I love being able to relate to the kids here. I’ve made a lot of friends who understand me and I understand them because we share so many similarities. I love camp and I don’t want it to be over,” said first-time camper Nicole Sucheski, 14. Fourteen-year-old Kaitlyn Smeraldo agreed: “Camp CHAT has shown me that I’m not alone and that there are other kids out there who understand me.”
In addition to a staff of trained counselors, activity specialists, and young adult volunteers, Camp CHAT also had a Pediatric Rheumatologist present daily to support the campers. Jennifer Weiss, MD, of Hackensack University Medical Center said her favorite part of working at Camp CHAT was being able to watch the campers enjoy themselves and fight back against their arthritis pain. “I’m here to support these children and their families. I love being able to watch them be active and participate in the camp activities. Knowing that they feel healthy is what makes it all worth it.”
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