By Chris Barber
When the board and management of Camp Dreamcatcher decided to go for a big fund-raiser, they didn't imagine the task would be so successful. By the end of the anniversary banquet on Saturday night, boosters had raised $56,000 by means of a golf tournament, a West Chester University activity day and a 10th anniversary dinner celebration.
Camp Dreamcatcher, the one-week outdoor summer program and year around support resource, serves the needs of children who have been affected by AIDS or who are HIV positive. It was started and is run by Kennett Square resident and therapist Patty Hillkirk.
She said the need to raise funds is constant because the campers, ages 5 to 17, are allowed to attend camp free, and the value of that experience at nearby Camp Saginaw is $750. In addition, she also runs a weekend teen leadership retreat for 14 to 17 year olds, camper/counselor reunions, camper support group and AIDS education programs. More than 280 counselors, medical personnel, professionals and community members volunteer throughout the year providing 10,000 hours of service during the camp week alone.
During Saturday's dinner at the Kennett Fire Co. Red Clay Room, about 150 supporters, campers and counselors showed up to bid on silent auction items, to hear testimonials by campers Prince, 17, and Amber, a member of the CIT camp program, and to listen to an after-dinner talk by former senior correspondent for ABC News "Nightline" Jim Wooten.
Prince said he was born HIV positive and "thought I was the only one." He said the camp experience taught him to take advantage of everyday he has. He said the camp had given new meaning to his life. "If I never came to camp, where would I be? ... Stick with your dreams. Now I want to be a social worker and help out at camp," he said.
Amber said she was also born HIV positive but had been inspired by the camp to help others. "[The camp] is the one thing I look forward to every summer," she said.
Wooten, in addition to his work with ABC New, is the author of the book, "We are all the same: A story of a Boy's Courage and a Mother's Love," an account of his friendship with a boy who was born with HIV and eventually died in South Africa.
Wooten told of the resistance by then-South African President Thabo Mbeki to educating his people about AIDS or even acknowledging that the disease was spread by a virus. Wooten said the country was plagued with myth and superstition and women with AIDS were treated like lepers. "Thousands were dying and Thabo Mbeki said he wasn't sure there was a virus ... he said he never met anyone with AIDS, even though his press secretary likely died of AIDS," Wooten said.
He went on to describe the plight of a woman who gave birth to an HIV positive son named Nkosi. She gave him up to a woman who could afford to raise him named Gail Johnson. In Nkosi Johnson's short life, the boy and his adoptive mother took up the cause of infected women and children, even challenging the president himself.
Wooten recalled Nkosi's mantra, which was "Do all you can with what you have in the time your have in the place you are."
Hillkirk said the camp served 53 campers in 1996 and only nine were infected. Now half of the 160 children served are infected and there is a waiting list for the programs. She added that the more money she can raise, the more children can attend the camp.