Making Family Memories

Among those benefiting from U-M’s historic fundraising campaign are sick children visiting Camp Michigania.
By Kristen Long


Read time: 3 minutes

The article “Blue Goes Big” shows the tremendous success of the Alumni Association’s and the University’s recent fundraising campaigns. But the impact is about more than numbers—it’s ultimately about people. Among those people who benefit from the generosity of donors are families with chronically ill children who attend Camp Michigania for a week of respite, thanks to a partnership with C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. Here, one mother—Kristen Long—tells her story.

As the single mother of two children, including a 5-year-old son with a neuromuscular disorder, I recently had no response when someone asked what personal activities I enjoy. The life of such a child is very orchestrated, and I simply have no time for anything beyond caretaking.

But a week spent at Camp Michigania last summer changed that for a short while. At first, I didn’t think I could manage a trip like this alone with Elijah and my daughter, Kaitlyn, who was then 9. But I wasn’t alone. I met amazing friends—other Mott families—who understand the stresses of parenting a special-needs child. And the camp staff members were amazing.

Stepping away from the complex care schedule was liberating. I had the opportunity to relax and shift my focus to areas of life that I often must neglect. That week, I rediscovered myself and reconnected to some of the things that have made me the person I am: art, climbing, boating, and horseback riding. All of these little pieces of myself had slipped away. But those activities, especially the art, reminded me of the importance of self-care. For one week, I didn’t have to juggle 25 things at once, which was a gift.

Even more rewarding, though, were the changes I saw in my children.

They opened up and relaxed as soon as we arrived. I had not seen their natural, relaxed smiles—their carefree goofiness—in well over a year. Previously, the mere thought of a family vacation was impossible, but we experienced a week of healing and bonding well beyond our expectations.

I could see Elijah’s whole body relax as he participated in activities that helped build his confidence and distracted him from pain. He did not think he could do archery, which became one of his favorite camp activities. With the support of the Camp Michigania staff, he not only tried it but felt a tremendous sense of achievement. After his second time at the archery range, he declared that he could join the Army!

And I loved watching my daughter’s compassion for her brother grow as she helped him navigate his new experiences at camp. She and I also had the chance for a special outing together; she was my sole focus, a rarity for her. Watching her make friends and gain the confidence to navigate the camp herself was beautiful. Those friendships have continued outside of camp.

These memories made during our week at Michigania will last forever, especially one memory. On our first day, we were gathered for lunch on the lawn, where Elijah spun in circles the way children his age often do: arms out and face to the sky. As he spun around, my son—whose time is usually filled with doctor and therapy appointments—sang to himself, “Camp Michigania is magical. It has boats and trees to climb, unicorns, and mermaids. Camp Michigania is so magical.”

Support families like Kristen’s by giving to the Camp Michigania Mott Family Program today.

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