Ashton Schwartz was just 11 years old when he attended his first Amputee Coalition Paddy Rossbach Youth Camp. That was almost nine years ago now, but he still remembers the excitement he felt when he was accepted as a camper. But that excitement did not compare to the “sweet feeling” he had when he finally arrived at camp and saw, for the first time ever, others with the same type of amputation.
“The people are the most important thing,” shares a now 20-year-old Ashton. “The location and activities are secondary. Bonding with each other is the most important thing. The first year was the most important to me. I have lifelong friends from camp that I communicate with daily.”
The Paddy Rossbach Youth Camp – or Amp Camp as it is affectionately known – has been providing a magical summer camp experience for youth living with limb loss and limb difference since 2000. With the COVID-19 pandemic, Amputee Coalition staff have worked hard to transform traditional camp into The Great Amp Camp Staycation. This year’s camp will be completely virtual, and we are even sending care packages to each camper with all the supplies they will need.
Ashton attended as a camper for several years, eventually transitioning to a counselor because he wanted to give back to kids just like him. Kids like him and Kalley Stevens. Kalley attended her first camp in 2012. Camp was a lot of firsts for her. First time away from home. First time on a plane. First time seeing older girls embrace their limb differences.
“I was heading into middle school when I first went to camp,” recounts Kalley. “For the first time, I was aware of how people treated me differently. This created low self-esteem because I was different with my lower leg amputation.”
Prior to attending camp, Kalley would never wear shorts – even on the hottest days. After a week spent at camp, learning from and being inspired by the counselors, Kalley decided to put herself out there more.
“The lasting impact was the encouragement from others to not be afraid to take chances, and it really helped my self-image. I remember seeing a counselor scale the rock wall, and deciding I was going to do it. And…I did it! I made it to the top,” exclaims Kalley.
Kalley, like Ashton, points to the friendships and role models as the most important part of camp. Camp really is about building a network of individuals dealing with the same challenges as you. A network that you rely on beyond the one week at camp. A network that becomes like family.
The Amputee Coalition staff and Amp Camp counselors, including Ashton and Kalley, are committed to keeping this network thriving for the 2020 campers. That’s why we are taking Amp Camp virtual from July 6-11. Amp Camp is only possible because of generous individual donations, and the support of sponsors like American Board for Certification in Orthotics, Prosthetics and Pedorthics, Inc. (Explorer Level), Ossur (Scout Level), and WillowWood (Scout Level).
Kalley had this to say to anyone considering a donation, “Your donation will impact the lives of so many young people, myself included. You help bring us together and develop life changing relationships that make us strong amputee community members.”