In 1993, a young man named Neil Willenson – then just 22-years-old – opened the first-ever week-long summer camp for children who had AIDS or were affected by the disease. In its first year, Camp Heartland welcomed 72 kids to a leased campground near Milwaukee, where they fished, hiked, rode horseback, learned archery and climbed trees – all the things children do at summer camp. Most importantly, they did it in an atmosphere of unconditional love and acceptance, never having to worry they would be singled out because of their HIV status.
Now in its 12th year, Camp Heartland has provided more than 5,000 camp experiences, welcoming children from all over the country to their year-round camp in northern Minnesota and rented facility in Malibu, California. Through the generosity of thousands of donors, all of Camp Heartland’s programs and services are provided free-of-charge.
As Neil says, “My vision has remained constant over the years: we want to provide kids who have been affected by HIV and AIDS with a place of total acceptance, a refuge from the judgment and isolation they face every day, a retreat from the fear of the future, a safe haven where they can be themselves, where they can have fun and make friends.”
Now Camp Heartland has published a book – and a really remarkable one. It is called A Journey of Hope – Inspiring Stories of Courage and Unconditional Love. The book was written by Neil Willenson and the children of Camp Heartland. It was brilliantly edited by Kurt Chandler with astonishing photography by Katja Heinemann.
Fair warning: some of the stories in A Journey of Hope will break your heart in two. Of the two thousand children who have shared the Camp Heartland experience, 60 have died of AIDS complications, and their stories are heart-wrenching. But there are also stories in the book of great hope, courage and inspiration.
The saddest stories in the book are the kids’ own. They talk about their fears, their often tragic family lives, and above all about prejudice. The stigma surrounding HIV and AIDS is still strong, and the true glory of Camp Heartland is that it is one place they can get away from it.
A Journey of Hope – Inspiring Stories of Courage and Unconditional Love sells for $22.95, and it is available at bookstores nationwide, through online sites such as amazon.com, and also through Camp Heartland at 1-800-724-4673 or campheartland.org. When the book is ordered directly through Camp Heartland, 100% of the purchase price benefits the organization and the children it serves.
Camp Heartland offers a discount to AIDS Service Organizations and for large quantity purchases.
Your child may be able to attend Camp Heartland if he or she is living with HIV/AIDS, has an immediate family member with the disease, or has lost a loved one to AIDS. You can contact the Camp Heartland Registration Department at 888 216-2028. All the camp’s programs and services are free.
To make a tax-deductible contribution, send your check or money order to: Camp Heartland, 1845 N. Farwell Avenue, Suite 310, Milwaukee, WI 53202. You can also donate on-line or by phone at 800 724-4673.
Copyright 2015, Positive Health Publications, Inc.
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