Hand Camp Heroes
Dr. Paul and Ruthie Dell
Dr. Dell is the “founding hero” of what is now Hands to Love, Congenital Hand Camp , Inc. For many years within his practice at the University of Florida when sought out by parents for the care of their young child with congenital upper extremity limb anomalies he made attempts to network these parents with others who had been down the road of seeking caring for their children, often bringing with them the baggage of anxiety and guilt. Through this informal networking process many parents found comfort that helped them navigate making the many decisions that care for their children required while also sharing their burden with other families. This informal process took on the shape of an annually occurring camp event in 2001 when two hand surgeons from the Texas Scottish Rite Hospital in Dallas shared the concept of “hand camp” with him at a meeting. Dr. Dell’s wife Ruthie Dell an O.T, also involved with the care of these children was invited to visit the Texas camp and observed how meaningful the process of networking and face to face support was to the families. With the hard work and tireless support of hundreds of volunteers the vision of these founders has become the viable and ongoing phenomena: Hands to Love Camp.
Without Tony Oyenarte there would be no hand camp! This longtime friend of Hands to Love was the director of Camp Crystal Lake for fourteen years until his career changed in 2014. He now directs Lochern, Camp for Girls in Lake Failree, Vermont. Tony remains very involved with Hands to Love, serving on our Board of Directors and is the Director of Hand Camp. Tony manages to learn and recall the names of every camper that has ever attended hand camp since our first event. And having an “acquired” hand difference due to trauma as a teen he has a keen insight into what the kids with congenital limb differences face day to day. More than once first timers at camp have been overheard exclaiming,” look mom, Mr. Tony’s just like me!” He has a gift of creating an environment that encourages kids to try new activities and facilitating success. Along with his staff our campers and their families enjoy an amazing weekend We are very fortunate to have Tony on our team of Hands to Love leadership.
Brian is one of the fulltime staff at Camp Crystal Lake. Having worked at Camp Crystal Lake prior to the 2001 beginnings of hand camp, our early planner Ginger Stirna who had worked at CCL as well as Tony Oyenarte would say each year, we would be so lucky to have “Beckett” here. You see Brian is a successful athlete, teacher, husband, father of two beautiful children , oh yes and he has an upper extremity limb difference He did eventually make it to hand camp around 2005 and lead our families and campers as our special inspirational guest and has since returned to have a fulltime position at CCL as an outdoor education teacher. We are blessed to have this calm and kind spirited man as one of our regular staff each year at hand camp. Through his example he embodies the Hands to Love mantra that “difference does not equal disability.”
Oh yes and he has an ULD.
Isabelle is one of Hands to Love’s charter campers, brought to camp for the first time by her parents as a two year old. Clearly those early years as a camper were probably more meaningful to her parents Mark and Jackie than they were to Isabelle. In retrospect though, the progression of that tiny, shy toe headed toddler has been remarkable! Plastered onto the back of her mommy’s knee for the first couple of years at camp watching the action but not venturing far from Mommy and Daddy. Fast forward to hand camp 2012 where this 13 year old C.I. T. was receiving recognition for her soon to be released book , based on first hand experience entitled, “The First Day Speech”! You see at hand camp , Isabelle and her parents learned about the strategy of doing a presentation to her class with an explanation of her limb difference, diffusing the mystique and introducing the very special girl who’s differences are just more visible than some other kids. Oh yes and in the years in between she has accomplished many milestones at hand camp. From Dribbling a basketball, to singing a solo, hitting a bull’s eye and scaling the three story climbing tower! Izzy is an original Hand Camp Hero!
Anything is Possible! That is Loyal’s catch phrase. This amazing young man has apparently succeeded in life at whatever he has set his mind to do. He is an Ironman Triathlon World Champion, has a successful career in finance, has a beautiful wife and two precious daughters. Hands to Love is so fortunate that Loyal sought out attendance to hand camp when he heard about H2L camp for children with upper limb differences. “There was nothing like this available for me and my family when I was a kid”. Loyal was born missing his left hand at the wrist level. This is a mutual love affair. Loyal understands to cause of Hands to Love and every camper and volunteer at hand camp 2012 were forever changed by his leadership as the inspirational guest speaker. All in attendance left camp uplifted, truly believing that ,”we are lucky to be me, and Anything Is Possible!”
The gift of Grace McClelland and her family to Hands to Love came about when her doctor in Indianapolis, Dr. Alex Mih shared a story with the Dells about a 5 year old little girl who had a message to share with the world. A boy at school teased her and said, “she was stupid because she had a stupid little hand”. Apparently this tiny little girl with a wit and wisdom beyond her years, marched home and told her mom that she needed to do something about this boy’s misunderstanding. So with her mom’s help to transcribe her thoughts, she wrote “ The Gift of Grace”. At age 9 her book has been published and she is spreading the news that , we all have differences and we are all wonderfully made! This book has been very meaningful to the Hands to Love community, and Grace is an H2L Hero!
Age 14 she is the youngest member of the U. S. Women’s Para Olympic Swim Team. Jaide set a new national record for her time in the 50 meter butterfly at the qualifying trials! She is going to the 2012 games in London!”
Wow! For any swimmer that has only been swimming competitively for two years these are awesome accomplishments. But this is no ordinary girl. Jaide is one of Hands to Love’s own! Jaide has been attending hand camp with her family since she was a preschooler. Come to think of it for the last couple of years Jaide would have to squeeze in a swim meet during the camp weekend. Though no matter how early she had to get up or how late she would have to arrive she never wants to miss out on the fun and fellowship of the Hands to Love camp. And as the camper with the million-dollar smile and seemingly eternal optimism, we always look for her to be there. Go Jaide!
First attending camp as a 9 year old who had moved from Florida to Michigan with her family, Jackie created a drawing for printing on our first commemorative art bag. From this drawing of many special hands in the shape of a heart the concept of our logo was born. A few years later she shared her inspirations about how she felt at hand camp and two of our mantras developed:
“Hand camp is a place where people look for your differences not at them” AND “Difference does not equal Disability”.
As a teen she spent many summer hours in Gainesville earning community service hours and assisting with the development of our camp planning manual and H2L newsletter. In college where one of her three majors was graphic design, Jackie developed more skills that enabled her to assist with many H2L projects requiring anything computer generated. We are so proud of this little girl who became a CIT, (Cool Inspiring Teen), and is now an inspiring AULD (Adult with Upper Limb Difference). And Hands to Love is richer indeed for knowing her.
Born without arms this woman has risen to amazing heights. Wendy came to hand camp as our special invited inspirational guest in 2008 and she shared how she has navigated a life full of obstacles though highlighted by many achievements. She was a collegiate diver for the University of Florida and has had an extensive career as an Occupational Therapist. At camp by her example the campers and families were delighted to observe her shoot an arrow at archery…. Holding and shooting a bull’s eye with her feet! Wendy shared that on her trip to camp from the airport since she prides herself on the fact that she requires no adaptations for rental cars she delighted in watching the counter agent’s jaw drop when she loaded up and drove away. An amazing person. We love Wendy, she’s an H2L Hero.
During the summer of 2010 a hand camp family whose son was born with a congenital forearm level amputation went to the circus. Coincidentally there was a performer there that shared the same exact limb difference. Casey Boehmer who was born into the largest family of professional jugglers in the US has honed his skills and is now acclaimed to be the most accomplished one-armed juggler in the world. In 2011 this world-class juggler shared his story and his unforgettable talents off at hand camp.
On his web site onearmjuggler.com the secret to his success is relayed in this statement, “My approach to juggling is much like my approach to life, be your best, no matter what the circumstance”
Hands to Love will always remember this gentle spirited hero’s visit to hand camp.
Dan Wilde and Kevin Griffin
Hand Camp would not be complete without the famous and much anticipated Saturday afternoon Bar-B-Q that is lovingly prepared by two unsung heroes and about two dozen of their closest friends and family. Kevin Griffin and Dan Wilde roll into camp in the early afternoon to begin cooking up a feast of grilled meats with all the fixings for more than 300 campers, their families and volunteers attending Hands to Love’s annual camp. This is a gift from the heart given by these two businessmen who understand Hands to Love’s mission, and simply want to support it.