Camp helps youth with illnesses experience magic of childhood

CHARLESTON—This summer, Camp Rise Above successfully reached the second stage of its “impossible dream.”

In partnership with Charleston County Parks and Recreation, the group offered four two-day sessions of summer camp to children who, before, only dreamt about it.

Barbara Denton, co-founder, said their first-ever summer sessions provided a true camper’s experience to children struggling with a variety of ailments, such as heart and kidney disease, sickle cell anemia and brain tumors, plus a group of military children. It is free and serves ages 6-17.

One little girl came with her brother and mom, who filmed every moment, from floating and sliding at the water park to trying her hand at the climbing wall.

“She just really enjoyed the moment. I’m all about that one moment in time for these kids,” Denton said.

“We want them to experience the magic of childhood regardless of their medical status.”

Denton was a hospice nurse and said she’s always had a passion for helping sick children. She helped create a program for them, with an annual summer camp, in 1993 outside Hendersonville, N.C.

When she returned to Charleston, the idea for a similar camp was born during a Bible study session at Christ Our King Church in Mount Pleasant, when parishioner John Carroll suggested they find a mission within their community, Denton said.

Camp Rise Above started with sessions in the atrium of MUSC’s Children’s Hospital. Denton and her team transform it, setting up tents around a pretend campfire where they make crafts, sing songs and bang on drums, among other things. It is a magical time for children and has been a huge success, she said.

The ultimate goal — Stage 3 — is to buy land in the tri-county area and build a permanent summer camp that can serve 100 sick children.

“I think there’s a real value in creating a camp environment for those kids,” she said, adding that it’s a place where they find “strength for the journey,” independence, a sense of belonging, and the opportunity to try things they would never do otherwise.

The day camps this summer, held at James Island County Park, provided a fully-staffed medical team at all times and a counselor for every camper to offer encouragement and build self-esteem.

Denton said they’ve received a lot of support from Precious Blood, Christ Our King, Stella Maris and St. Benedict churches, plus the Cursillo group.

Megan Hohenberger, a graduate of Bishop England and Clemson University, was one of the volunteer counselors.

“It was actually a lot of fun,” she said. “A lot of times you wouldn’t even know they had any illnesses. We really try to get them laughing and playing. It’s so enlightening to be around those kids.”

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