BY: Katherine J. Petersen
I always knew I was different. I felt it everywhere – at school, at the library, in stores, on playgrounds. Everywhere. One of the earliest lessons I learned about having spina bifida is that people stare. Then, one day my parents heard about a sleep-away camp that was for kids just like me – kids living with the daily challenges of having spina bifida. It sounded wonderful but, I admit, I was nervous thinking about being away from home for a whole week! But we decided to give it a try and signed up for Camp Spifida.
From the moment my parents and I arrived on the grounds of beautiful Camp Spifida in rural Pennsylvania, all my fears melted away! We were received by caring, funny, silly, happy people who took my luggage, gave me a goodie bag, and sent me on to explore the acres of the camp. There was a pool, a huge wheelchair accessible tree house, an archery range, ice cream, a playground...I couldn’t believe my eyes!
My mom and dad tell the story a bit differently. Sure, they saw all the fun things the camp had to offer, but they also saw how well cared for I would be during the week at camp. They talked about the “med shed” which is more like a mini-medical clinic. They raved about the high counselor-to-camper ratio and marveled at the fact that each cabin has a doctor living in the cabin with the kids! All of these people are volunteers who have dedicated a week of their summer to ensure that kids like me have an unforgettable experience like nothing we have ever had in our lives.
Now that I am almost 18 I see my parent’s perspective on the camp and I, too, am in awe of what it takes to plan this camp and the love and dedication of all the people who work so hard, all year long, to make it a reality.
This camp has given me an opportunity to have a fun-filled vacation week where nobody stares at me, and nobody asks, “What is wrong with you?” My friends at camp understand what living with spina bifida is like. There is so much that goes unsaid between us because we all are living with the same challenges. This one week of the year we are able to just relax and be kids and teenagers first and people with disabilities second.
This camp has been the single most important and life-changing experience of my life. It gave me life-long friends that have helped support me through depression, surgeries, illnesses, and have helped me celebrate my successes! I have also decided to make my life’s work helping others with disabilities. I am beginning my college career this fall and will be majoring in Human Services with a concentration in Deaf Studies and I hope to become an advocate for people with disabilities.
My experiences over the past 5 summers at “Spifida” have helped lift me up and formed me in to a fierce, determined young adult who is ready to make her mark on the world.
For more information about Camp Spifida visit