Camp Victory is an unparalleled documentary film that explores the courageous world of young people who are chronically ill or physically challenged, and the extraordinary camp where, for seven days every summer, their astonishing array of health challenges no longer are the measure of their lives.
This one-hour original WVIA production intimately chronicles the experiences of children and teenagers afflicted with traumatic medical and developmental conditions and how their week at Camp Victory acknowledges, not their external “special needs”, but their intrinsic specialness.
Amid the pastoral provenance of Millville, Pennsylvania, more than just wheat and green chop are raised. So, too, are spirits-of the campers and their families, and of Camp Victory’s exceptional volunteers and staff. Their remarkable rapport is cultivated with camaraderie, compassion and campfires. It harrows the isolation imposed by wheel chairs, breathing machines and medications, and harvest harbingers of diversity acceptance far beyond the rolling farmland that cradles the camp. These people and this place are seeding a finer life for us all.
Situated 12 miles north of the Susquehanna River and the city of Bloomsburg, Camp Victory is one of approximately ten facilities in the United States dedicated to providing a summer camp experience for young people with chronic illnesses. In 16 years of operation, its programs have grown to enrich the lives of more than 15,000 young people profoundly afflicted with cancer, spina bifida, kidney and heart disease, skin disorders, diabetes, dwarfism, burns, autism, epilepsy, and deafness. In 2009, one in five campers came from outside of Pennsylvania.
The camp’s origin lies in a 1986 donation of 35 acres of prime farmland in Millville by the parents of an infant born with liver disease. The donor’s vision was to establish a facility to provide health-afflicted young people with a camp environment constructed to support their special needs, but conceived to create a haven from the singular stresses their needs impose upon them.
Today the camp encompasses 125 acres, and includes a dozen sleeping cabins, a state-of-the-art medical building, two dining/recreation halls, a swimming pool, a climbing wall, rope course, hiking trails, a wheel chair-accessible tree house, and numerous sports fields and fresh water resources for boating and fishing. Not included in Campy Victory are any of the physical, emotional or psychological barriers that pervade the lives of these young people with chronic illnesses.
What makes Camp Victory unique is the opportunity it provides these young people to commune with others who share their disability. They are not perceived as “different”. They are accepted. Through their collaboration in the camp’s engaging range Through their collaboration in the camp’s engaging range of recreational activities, and from the compassionate comingling with vetted, experienced volunteer counselors and staff, the shine of their youth is restored.
Perhaps the most compelling outcome of Camp Victory is its resonance after both campers and volunteers return to complex social spaces, such as schools. There, insights newly enabled within their hearts and minds can be imparted to peers. And from this transference of wisdom and knowledge, acceptance can replace rejection.
Camp Victory captures the holistic experience of three campers-their anticipation as they prepare for their stay at Camp Victory, their experiences during their camp stay, and their return to life beyond Millville. These young people will be selected by the camp’s executive director to represent the essential qualities of both the camp experience and its participants (including age, race, gender, health condition, and previous camp experience, if any).
These intimate stories, reflecting the campers’ hopes and reactions, are editorially entwined with evocative cinematography that graphically contextualizes all camping groups, camp activities and utilization profiles. Long-lens and hand-held verite compositions are employed both to minimize obtrusiveness and to picture the physicality of camp activities such as the rock wall, rope course and field sports.
In particular, attention will be paid to the quality of natural light portrayed in the film, and how the evocation of its color, contrast and sense of motion can symbolize the campers’ persecution, and their perseverance. This expressive camerawork serves as the creative foil for the intimate insights captures in interviews with the principal campers, their parents and camp counselors, as well as from a more clinical perspective provided in interviews with doctors, camp staff and donors, to render the rich range of experience and emotion inspired at Camp Victory.
A key content component of the documentary is how the personal growth the camper experiences resonates with their home and school life. Social exclusion and bullying pollute quality of life and education process, and chronically ill or physically challenged young people are perhaps the most vulnerable to those social forces. The documentary provides all viewers- but especially K-12 students and teachers-with role models and case studies that express this behavior’s horrible emotional and physiological affect and the courage embodied by those who confront it.
Camp Victory was born from the prescience of a positive life-altering experience for young people with chronic health conditions. Those whose afflicted journey has led them there leave with the enabled sense of the camp as a bearing, to steady their course ahead. Camp Victory reveals the Arcanum between those spirits and this station, which transfigures young people venerable guides for the rest of us, leading the way from the realm of stigma, and closer to a state of grace.