Aug 21, 2017

Summer camp is “a week without limits” for children with disabilities

Each year, now retired IT Systems Engineer Neil Matz, his wife, Rene, and daughter, Amanda, take a week’s vacation that changes their lives and the lives of others.

It began when Amanda was deciding on a college career in the field of nursing. Friends of the family suggested that she visit Pennsylvania Vent Camp at Camp Victory in Millville to get a taste for the profession. After a week at the camp, Amanda — and her parents — were hooked.

According to their website, Pennsylvania Vent Camp’s purpose is to provide a camp to meet the needs of children ages 4-18 who are on ventilators and have multiple healthcare needs. To qualify, children must require a ventilator, BiPAP or CPAP to breathe, need to understand and be able to participate in camp activities, and be able to be medically cared for in a camp setting.

PA Vent Camp staff consists of the camp directors; a health staff with physicians, nurses, respiratory therapists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, and speech language pathologists; team leaders; partners; an activity staff; and junior partners and counselors.

“When you go and see these kids, you want to do all you can to help,” said Matz, a volunteer EMT and firefighter in the Harrisburg area. “The first year I volunteered, I broke down and cried. I thought about what these parents have to go through 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year to take care of their child. It’s non-stop.”

Matz and his family have been volunteering as “partners” for the past seven years. Partners are paired with a camper and help to care for their needs, get involved with activities or crafts, and generally buddy up with the camper for the week.

Matz’s involvement doesn’t stop after one week of camp. “We stay in touch via Facebook,” said Matz about the 16-year-old boy his family is currently partnering with at camp. “He’s a quadriplegic. He uses his tongue to type on a computer. You can go onto Facebook and talk with him. You wouldn’t know the physical ailments that he has.”

What Matz wishes others knew about PA Vent Camp is that there is always a shortage of volunteers and no skills are required to assist. “Anyone can help,” he said. “There are jobs like arts and crafts or laundry to be done. We can always use the help.”

Rene, Amanda and Neil Matz with friend and Pennsylvania Vent Camp participant, Claire.
Rene, Amanda and Neil Matz with friend and Pennsylvania Vent Camp participant, Claire.

The highlight for the children, staff and volunteers is the talent show at the end of the week. “These kids sing, they dance and they lip-sync,” Matz said. “They have such a great time.”

What’s the most rewarding part of camp? “They call camp ‘a week without limits,'” he explains. “So to see these kids doing things like we would do — like climbing a rock wall or zip lining — is a thrill. Also knowing that we can provide parents a week respite to go away for a week knowing their child is in good hands is very rewarding.”

This year, Neil received PPL’s Peer-to-Peer Volunteer Recognition Award for his volunteer efforts at PA Vent Camp.

Find out more about PA Vent Camp: