For 100 years, the woods, streams and lakes of YMCA’s Camp Copneconic in Fenton have offered an outdoor adventure experience for children.
But today’s camping experience is a far cry from the primitive conditions and canvas tents that originally greeted campers. The camp has added programs, built cabins and developed its waterfront over the years.
Copneconic also has expanded the camping experience to serve more children, partnering with local health organizations to serve children with chronic illnesses and special circumstances such as grief recovery.
Collaborations have made it possible for children with diabetes, cancer (or living with a family member who has cancer), Crohn’s disease, colitis, asthma and kidney disease,
among others, to enjoy summer camp. They can relax and play without their parents worrying about their children’s medical issues.
Today, those partnerships have grown to become an integral part of Camp Copneconic’s mission. The camp has a new $2.5 million Health and Wellness Center to better serve its medical partners.
The first health center, built in the 1960s, reflected the needs of the camp at the time, said John Carlson, the camp’s director. But the partnerships serving children with special medical needs required a more comprehensive approach.
“To get a perspective, we’re three different camps at once – d
ay camp, overnight camp, and partner camp at the same time,” Carlson said. “That’s hundreds of children on camp at the same time. And with our growing partnerships, we clearly needed a new health facility..”
The new health center is unassuming at first glance, but a step inside proves otherwise. It’s a masterful blend of high-tech medical facility with rustic lodge. Instead of clinical white, the interior sports wood and outdoorsy colors.
The center also houses the medical staff each partner organization brings to camp.
“So when kids with diabetes are here, the American Diabetes Association sends doctors and other medical professionals. When kids with colitis are here, the facility is staffed by the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America,” Carlson explained.
The partner side of the health center is designed like a clinic, with a reception area, patient waiting area, acute care room, exam rooms, isolation rooms, staff on-call rooms and a pharmacy.
There’s also a walk-up window. “Kids can walk up to the ‘drive-through’ window and get their medications without having to come inside and interrupt their activities,” Carlson said. There is ample room for a wheelchair at the window. If kids — or their doctors — prefer, they can come around to a patio and sit at a table while receiving their meds. There also is a quiet, air-conditioned space just inside for taking a break.
The center’s lower level houses physician family suites, with two bedrooms and a bathroom. The suites share a kitchenette and living room. .“Doctors stay here with their families for the duration of a partner camp,” Carlson shared. “The medical partners are blown away by this; it shows how much we care about them. It builds trust, shows them they are true partners, not just renters here. We want them to feel
this is their home, too.”
The center also serves campers in the YMCA’s regular camp program with a separate camp-like infirmary. Children leave their meds in a medication room (which also has a walk-up window)
Amenities in the center are designed to make camp easier — and possib
le — for kids with illnesses. There is a treatment room that can be used for peritoneal dialysis; a counselor plans activities for kids in treatment.
“Fabrics are antimicrobial, bathrooms are tile, everything is as close to sterile as we can get it,” Carlson explained. “TV and game remotes are in plastic bags. This is a medical facility, there are sick kids here, and we work hard to keep it clean.” This year, Hurley Medical Center is recognizing its partnership with Camp Copneconic — and the asthma camp recently renamed “Camp Easy Breathers” — by donating a portion of the proceeds from its annual benefit ball to the center.
A Hurley Ball Ambassador is 10-year-old Rebekah Hall of Davison. Rebekah and several of her siblings have asthma and attend Camp Easy Breathers. Camp is a special part of her summer.
By Helen Bas