Annual service at MDA Camp each summer has been a cherished Jesuit High School tradition for decades. Dozens of students and alumni spend the week as caring counselors for children with muscular dystrophy, doing everything they can to help the kids have an amazing week-long experience.
But this summer, there was a roadblock: Due to some restructuring, MDA Camp was no longer in Hillsborough County at its longtime home at Rotary’s Camp Florida in Brandon. Instead, four MDA Camps statewide had been combined into one, in Umatilla, two hours away. Worse yet, it was pushed back from late June into August – right into the first week of the school year.
No matter. With special permission from the Jesuit administration, 15 current students were among the contingent of 27 Jesuit Tigers serving at MDA Camp 2018 from Aug. 4-10.
“It was just awesome, like always,” said Andy Wood ’92, who has participated in MDA Camp annually for nearly 30 years. “When we first learned about the restructuring, and new date, obviously we were very concerned that it could be the end of an era for Jesuit and MDA Camp. And there were some guys who couldn’t make it work with their personal life schedules. But nearly 30 of us were there, and we are all extremely grateful.”
The counselors and the campers connect at MDA Camp for a transformative experience and one of the highlights of their year. Each counselor is matched up with a camper for the week, supporting them day and night. Some counselor-camper matches last several years.
The camp is filled with activities such as fishing, swimming, crafts, competitions, games, a dance, talent show, carnival, and more. For those who serve, helping to provide a week of enjoyment for the youths with muscular dystrophy is rewarding and impactful.
“For the current students, and especially the first-timers, it’s an experience they will never forget,” Wood said. “It is genuine.”
Jesuit alumni and students serving MDA Camp earlier this month were: Jason Accardi ’19, Christian Ancona ’19, Matthew Boatman ’05, Joshua Burke ’19 (see below), J.P. Collins ’17, Max Damm ’19, Mike Gutowski ’04, Nick Haskell ’19, Austin Jurado ’11, Kyle Kowalski ’19, Luke McConnie ’20, Danny Meyering ’20, Brett Nevitt ’18, Aiden Nies ’19, Adam Perhosky ’08, Oliver Petrillo ’20, Harrisen Pike ’19, Stephen Smiley ’15, Connor Stuart ’19, Nick Teller ’20, Andy Thornton ’10, Thomas Turner ’19, Dylan Vandall ’19, Bob Weiner ’83, Sean Wickett ’16, Adam Wolf ’05, and Andy Wood ’92.
Burke just started his senior year at Jesuit, and he wrote about his experience this summer at MDA Camp:
“A week at MDA camp is one of incredible growth and gratification in making a difference in someone else’s life. The bond that is developed between a camper and a counselor over the week-long camp is simply amazing.
My camper Logan was a shy and reserved 11-year-old boy. Not only was it my responsibility to tend to his physical needs but also help him engage in the camp activities and encourage communication. This was my biggest challenge.
Last summer I spent most days trying to convince him to participate. Since he refused, we spent a lot of time playing board games in the library or watching others partake in the activities. Anytime anyone would ask him his name, he would look to me to respond. At times he became very upset when others approached him to participate.
I went into this summer determined to help him take advantage of all the camp activities. I wanted him to enjoy his week. As the week progressed he grew very comfortable with me as well as the other campers and counselors. He began to participate in all the activities.
I was even successful in getting him to attend the dance for 10-15 minutes. It may not seem like a lot, but for those who knew him, they were thrilled to witness this accomplishment. Seeing him make such strides throughout the course of the week was a very rewarding experience. I felt as though I had made a difference in his life. Not only was it rewarding to see how much we grew together in a week, but it was equally uplifting to observe the compassion and understanding of my fellow Jesuit counselors.
This was one of the greatest volunteer experiences of my life. It certainly provided a humbling look into the lives of these amazing children. I look forward to returning for many summers.”