MOST OF US can’t even imagine living with a life-long disorder or caring for someone with one. But for those who face this reality, having a haven of normalcy is vital to the well-being of the entire family. And in 2001, that’s what Christine and Stephen McSherry strived for when they started Jett Foundation after learning the devastating news that their then five-year-old son Jett had Duchenne muscular dystrophy. The McSherry family was determined to save Jett and the thousands of boys like him by establishing a foundation dedicated to funding DMD research.
Since then, Jett Foundation’s efforts have raised over $16 million dollars for promising biomedical Duchenne research and shifted its primary focus to direct service programming, such as Camp Promise for families impacted by Duchenne and other neuromuscular disorders. With five operating locations in Arizona, Ohio, Washington, New England, and Colorado, Camp Promise has welcomed more than 800 campers over the past 12 years, ranging in ages from six years to grown adults, and they’re continuing to grow every year.
The Colorado Camp Promise is located at Easter Seals Rocky Mountain Village in Georgetown, where their overarching mission thrives: providing a barrier-free, weeklong overnight camp for kids, teens, and adults with muscular dystrophy or select neuromuscular diseases — regardless of age, capability or ability to pay.
“Serving campers of all ages provides a unique experience for both our youngest and oldest campers to share their camp experience and create a stronger community, says Meghan Houston, assistant director of Camp Promise. “Our camper-focused programming builds independence, confidence, and life skills through traditional camp activities and by bringing campers new experiences through adaptation, technology, creativity, and special guests.”
This welcoming and respectful community lets campers learn from and support each other, fostering new and lasting friendships that extend beyond camp. “It’s amazing what our campers can do when we actually let them. It’s a rare chance for them to go off and be independent.” The curriculum is similar to what you might see at your typical summer camp; theme days, arts and crafts, swimming, boating, fishing, dances, archery – all tailored to the specific needs and abilities of each camper. “We have comedy troupes, bands come to perform, zoo animals come for visit, we have even had an accessible hot-air balloon take campers for a ride. Our goal is to keep it fresh and fun every session.”
For families, camp is a safe place for them to drop their loved ones off and feel confident they’re receiving the utmost best care, making it so they can get a well-deserved week of respite. “Camp Promise isn’t just for campers. We know caregivers, siblings and parents all need space and time to ‘just be.’ Knowing campers are safe and having the best time allows them to fully enjoy the week.”
Camp Promise has been on a growth trajectory from the beginning, always looking for new communities that could benefit from their programs to serve more campers each year. In the future we hope to be in more cities/states, serving multiple weeks a year to ensure equal opportunity for all. Even in the face of Covid, Camp Promise offered virtual camps where each camper was given a box of goodies and supplies to each week’s virtual activities.
“The hope is for our campers to feel a sense of community when they’re with us. Being surrounded by those who understand you can be so powerful. We want our campers to feel a sense of security to be limitless and feel unconditional love.” Camp Promise is truly a gift for all.
PHOTOS: E.J. Carr, courtesy of Camp Promise