James Canton 5/2/2013

Last Thursday, Jimmy Canton, the CEO of the “Hole in the Wall Camp” talked about the outstanding work they are doing all over the world wherever there are very sick children that need to feel like normal happy kids, even if for only a short time. Paul Newman founded The Hole in the Wall Camp in 1988 to give children with serious medical conditions such as cancer and hemophilia the opportunity to share summer camp experiences with kids just like them. For many this was a new experience. In fact, many had never been away from their home or their hospital before.

In 1988 the camp consisted of a total of 288 children and it was only available in the summer. Today there are over 20,000 children cared for all during the year and all around the world. The original camp in Ashford, Connecticut provides nine one-week sessions for 120 children per session. The campers are supported by a staff of 100 caring and loving counselors, many of whom were campers themselves, as well as medical professionals volunteering their time in a fully equipped infirmary designed to treat cancer and other serious illnesses. Newman created a place where kids could “raise a little hell” and receive “a different kind of healing.”

While many people come to the Camp expecting to see a “sad place,” Canton said that what they see is one full of kids laughing and causing mischief. Campers meet others who share their problems. They gain “healing power from others that have “walked their walk.” Canton showed a video of a ‘tween suffering from hemophilia who needs a daily shot to keep his illness in check. He had refused to do his own infusion until at the Camp he met a counselor with the same diagnosis who let the younger boy practice on him. Today the camper is self-sufficient. Campers learn to pull together, to help the more challenged of their new friends get things done. All activities are modified so that they are appropriate for each child there.

The Hole in the Wall organization has built 13 other camps, eight in the U.S, and the rest in Europe and Africa. As they added summer camps they sought opportunities to bring their programs to more and more seriously ill children. Today, The Hole in the Wall serves over 20,000 seriously ill children year round – in camps, in hospitals, in school and at home. It offers fall through spring programs for campers and their families at the Camp. It offers a Hospital Outreach Program through which counselors bring the “hopeful, playful spirit of Camp” to children and families in a hospital setting.” And it even brings joy and relief to children at home in the final throes of their illnesses.

The Connecticut camp runs on a $12 million annual budget. Over 50 percent of their funding needs is provided by individuals, the remainder from corporations, foundations and organizations. Newman’s Own was its founder, but today provides less than one percent of it’s budget because Newman wanted the Camp to be sustainable in case the Newman’s Own funding were not available. Canton appealed for support from the Y’s Men and closed by saying “we would not be where we are if it were not for the people of Westport.”

During Q&A the following was discussed:

  1. Bullying is something they make sure never happens
  2. Of the 1200 children accepted each year, 30% are new while the rest are part of a 3 year attendance at the camp. New enrollees most needy of the camp are recommended by Doctors and Oncologists.
  3. Y’s Men are welcome to visit anytime when the campers aren’t there.
  4. Children with mental issues such as Autism or significant psychological problems are accepted only if that condition is secondary to a serious physical illness such as cancer, etc.
  5. Anyone interested in supporting the camp can go to their website to get information.

Thank you Brian for one of the most poignant of speakers.