Friday, October 3, 2008

Amputee Coalition brings youth summer camp to Ohio location

Until Laura Mullen attended the Amputee Coalition of America’s summer camp, the 14-year-old had never met another kid with an amputation.

It’s an opportunity she looks forward to each summer – especially now that the camp has moved to a location near Cincinnati, Laura said.

“I especially like being able to be with amputee kids,” said the Indiana girl. “I could take off my leg anywhere and not have everybody look at me.”

Laura wears a prosthetic leg because of congenital condition that prevented her bones from developing.

The camp is just one of the many services the nonprofit agency provides in Ohio and around the country. The Knoxville, Tenn.-based organization focuses on increasing awareness about amputees in America, advocating for amputees and creating support systems for them.

Three of the 63 campers at the Joy Outdoor Education Center July 20-24 in Clarksville, about 35 miles from Cincinnati, were from Ohio. The coalition rented the camp for one week and spent about $2,000 per camper. The coalition arranges for children from around the country to attend.

Ohio was chosen because coalition staff liked the camp property and also wanted a site in the Midwest to accommodate kids coming from all over the country,

“It’s a great opportunity for kids because at so many other places, they’re not normal.” said Lonnie Nolt, a 30-year-old Columbus man who lost his leg in a motorcycle accident nine years ago. “This is one of the only places where they’re the normal.”

Nolt, who was a counselor at the camp this summer and plans to return, said he was moved when some campers told him, “This week is my favorite vacation of my life.”

Not just camp
In addition to the camps, the coalition also provides peer mentoring opportunities and workshops where amputees can learn skills designed to improve their quality of life. The agency also offers continuing education classes for medical professionals who deal with amputees.

The coalition developed the independent summer camp program in 2002 as an outreach effort for children. The organization also offers a password-protected Web site where young people with amputations can chat with each other online.

The site and the camp offer a place for kids to share thoughts and advice about their medical situations, said Vicki Foster, the manager for outreach and special events for the coalition.

“The focus of the camp is to give these children an opportunity to meet and interact with other children who have similar challenges,” she said.

To help offset costs to the coalition, Parents are asked to donate $500 if they’re able, Foster said.

The camp is open to children ages 10 to 16, she said. Teenagers who are too old to participate as campers are routinely invited to become counselors, Foster said. The practice provides great mentoring opportunities, she said.

Included in the four-day event are discussions about dating, nutrition, healthy lifestyles and peer pressure, Foster said. Attending camp often helps young people become more comfortable with their bodies, Foster said.

“Some amazing conversations take place,” she said.

Parents often report that children come home from camp and start wearing shorts rather than hiding their missing limbs, Foster said.

Confidence building
Linda Mullen, Laura’s mother, noticed a change in her daughter after her first camp experience three years ago.

“It’s given her more confidence and made her less self conscious,” she said.

Attending camp also has made her daughter more willing to take control of her situation, Linda Mullen said, noting that her daughter is more willing to make a doctor’s appointment or other arrangements for her care.

Laura, who was one of this year’s campers, said she enjoys the opportunity to hear and see how other campers lead their lives.

Camp was even better this year thanks to the new location east of Cincinnati, she said.

The center had a high ropes course that was accessible to all campers, she said.

“People that have a disability can actually do it,” she said. “You can take as long as you want.”

Amputee Coalition of America
900 E. Hill Ave., Suite 205
Knoxville, Tenn.
Phone: 888-267-5669
Fax number: 865-525-7919
Web site:
Mission: To reach out to people with limb loss and empower them through education, support and advocacy.
Executive staff: Kendra Calhoun, CEO; and Patricia J. Isenberg, chief operating officer
Board members: David McGill, chairman; Eve Rachel Markewich, vice chairwoman; Kathleen K. Spozio, secretary; Arthur Bassin, treasurer; Jeffrey Cain; Pat Chelf; Marshall J. Cohen; Richard N. Myers Jr.; and Charlie Steele.
Paid staff: 31
Volunteers: Hundreds
Quick facts:
• The coalition advocates for the rights of people with limb loss, and has introduced legislation at the state and federal levels to ensure health insurance companies provide meaningful prosthetic coverage.
• The coalition hosts the largest annual national consumer educational conference specifically for people with limb loss.
• The coalition houses the most comprehensive library available for people with limb loss.
• The coalition’s National Peer Network trains civilian and military peer trainers and peer visitors.

Melissa Kossler Dutton is a freelance writer based in Bexley.

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