When Lily was three, her entire family was in a car accident that left her paralyzed and her family shattered. Kennedy Krieger’s Camp SOAR helped them heal again.
A moment of screeching tires and crumpling metal, and Lily Wilkinson’s new life appeared to be etched in stone before she had even entered kindergarten. Her neck broken, Lily was left paralyzed below the waist at the age of three.
Camp SOAR changed the way I feel about my disability by helping me do things I thought I couldn’t do.
After months of intensive care, Lily made great improvement, thanks to the International Center for Spinal Cord Injury and its team of doctors and therapists. Lily’s mother was thrilled with her progress, but months of hospitalization and therapy meant lots of time apart from her brother and sister. When Lily was discharged, her family still needed healing.
Extended hospitalization and therapy can be emotionally difficult for young children, who may long for a sense of normalcy and the freedom to be a regular kid again. That’s why Kennedy Krieger offers Camp SOAR (Sibling Outdoor Adventure Retreat) for patients like Lily and their siblings.
At Kennedy Krieger’s weekend summer camp for patients and their siblings, kids with and without disabilities can interact, play, and realize their greatest potential. Lily has attended Camp SOAR for the past three summers, and loves it.
This year Lily, now 12, zipped around camp in her electric wheelchair and explored nature, played games, roasted marshmallows, went swimming, and even canoed with her sister Olivia, 9. Everyone had a blast with the special activities, this year centered around a Hollywood theme, and Lily wrote and performed her own song along with her sister.
“Our goal is to help enhance sibling relationships, and help them realize that no matter what their ability, everyone loves playing, everyone loves interacting, and everyone wants a great relationship with their sibling,” says Camp SOAR director and therapeutic recreation specialist Kelley Marcue. She and other Kennedy Krieger employees organize the camp every year, help raise money to subsidize the cost for campers, and volunteer their time as camp counselors and activities assistants.
In addition to volunteers, nursing staff are onsite at the camp, and on-call physicians are available throughout the weekend, so parents need not worry about their child’s medical needs.
“It’s a great opportunity for the children to meet other campers who may have similar stories and share their thoughts and feelings,” says Marcue. She adds, “Campers can see the strengths and abilities of their siblings in a fun and friendly environment.”
The camp also helps give kids more confidence in their own abilities. “Camp SOAR changed the way I feel about my disability by helping me do things I thought I couldn’t do,” says Lily.
The experience is every bit as meaningful for the volunteers as it is for the campers. “I don’t cry very often, but I cry every year at camp,” says Marcue. “Seeing sibling relationships evolve over the weekend and kids finally having a chance to just be kids is an amazing experience. I know they get a lot out of the weekend, but the staff definitely gets a tremendous amount out of it, too.”
“I don’t cry very often, but I cry every year at camp. Seeing sibling relationships evolve over the weekend and kids finally having a chance to just be kids is an amazing experience. I know they get a lot out of the weekend, but the staff definitely gets a tremendous amount out of it, too.”
– Kelley Marcue, director of Camp SOAR (Sibling Outdoor Adventure Retreat)