James Madison University

Nursing Professor, Student Assist Special Needs Camp

By: Dina Manco
Posted: September 29, 2015

From April to August every year, Camp Holiday Trails (CHT) offers a wide array of activities for children and families in Charlottesville, VA. This past summer, JMU nursing student Alina Murphy and Assistant Nursing Professor Deborah Gleason volunteered their medical skills at the camp. CHT’s goal is to enrich the lives of children diagnosed with conditions such as sickle cell disease and cerebral palsy. The camp offers a variety of sessions throughout the summer for different age groups.

Gleason originally learned of CHT when she worked at the University of Virginia in Pediatric Endocrinology. For a time, she served on the board of camp directors, and was thrilled to return this summer as a volunteer nurse practitioner.

With physicians and medical professionals like Gleason on site 24/7, children are able to participate in a variety of activities including canoeing, kayaking, nature hikes and game nights.

Gleason enthuses, “Camp is sleep away, so children learn to cope without their parents, and we try to help build some autonomy and encourage self-sufficiency with the kids. We give them opportunities they may not have had the chance to accomplish. For example, during young camper week a little camper with cerebral palsy actually climbed the climbing wall to the top (with a little help from the ropes!).”

Gleason mainly spent her time at the “Med Korner” caring for the children’s cuts, bug bites, and administering medications when needed. She volunteered at the camp during the sessions with younger age groups and during Autism Week.

PHOTO: JMU students at camp

Murphy, who worked as an EMT at the camp, comments, “There were med students, Physician Assistant students, Doctor of Medicines, Registered Nurses, Nurse Practitioners, and other medical professionals…One of the biggest tasks was giving meds because almost every camper had numerous meds given multiple times a day.” She adds, “There were also other routine tasks like breathing treatments, tube feedings, glucose checks, carb counting and port maintenance. We also, of course, had typical camp injuries like scraped knees, bee stings and [children] eating popsicles until they felt sick.”

According to Gleason, each camp session can range from 30 to 50 children with 2 counselors for every 6-8 kids. Counselors at Camp Holiday Trails are typically college-level students including nursing and medical professionals in training.

Gleason says, “Both of my daughters with Type 1 diabetes have worked as counselors at camp for many years in the past.  My older daughter even came back this year for young camper week, and worked as an RN.”

Working with the medical staff at CHT helped Murphy expand her knowledge of different medical conditions. She states, “It was a really great way to see how kids deal with their conditions outside of acute settings and see how they live every day. It is very different from treating a patient in the hospital, and even more so because they are kids. They just want to play with their friends and do ‘normal’ kid stuff, which is why this camp is so great.”

Gleason wrote a post entitled “A Family Affair” about CHT, which can be found on the JMU Nursing Facebook page. She encourages anyone looking to work with children in a medical capacity to consider volunteering at Camp Holiday Trails.