| UST Students Find Fulfillment at MDA Camp |
This summer, three University of St. Thomas students dedicated one week to brightening the lives of children with neuromuscular diseases by volunteering as camp counselors at the Muscular Dystrophy Association Summer Camp.
Sarah Lutz, a senior education major, Nema Kheradmand, a junior chemistry major and Rosemary Tran ‘12, a biology major, served at the MDA camp at Camp for All in Burton, Texas from June 2-9. The MDA camp allows children to make connections with others while sharing similar struggles in a safe and supportive environment. Each year, MDA supports roughly 90 summer camps across the country at no charge to families.
MDA is a non-profit health agency dedicated to curing muscular dystrophy, ALS and related diseases by funding worldwide research. The Association also provides comprehensive health care and support services, advocacy and education. MDA maintains medical clinics nationwide for adults and children with muscular dystrophy and related diseases.
Lutz began volunteering with the MDA camp in high school, and this summer marks her fourth year volunteering as a counselor. She returns each year because it is rewarding to witness her campers grow and expand their horizons.
“Each year at camp is a different experience, I always come home and reflect on the experiences and what each child has taught me about myself,” Lutz said. “Going to camp has helped me understand that I can help somebody no matter what the scenario is. From these camps, I have learned to be confident in myself.”
Lutz is pursuing a career in teaching and finds that her experiences at the camp have helped prepare her for challenges in the classroom.
Kheradmand volunteered for his first time as a camp counselor. He learned about the program from a representative from the muscular dystrophy department.
“It was unlike anything I have done before,” Kheradmand said. “I have never done anything so charitable, it was an amazing experience.”
Kheradmand admits the camp was taxing but assures that it is worth the work put in.
“I have a saying that I use in clinics,” Kheradmand said. “‘Patients require patience.’ When working with children, you must put their needs first.”
Tran volunteered for her second summer with the MDA camp. A friend studying nursing recommended she apply to volunteer.
“After the first summer, you know what to expect. Even if your camper didn’t have many needs, you are still helping other campers in your cabin,” Tran said.
“Volunteering at the MDA camp is beneficial no matter what career path you choose because you have to be good with people.”
Tran plans to pursue work within the medical field and social service.
The benefits of the MDA summer camp reached the UST campus. Dyla Gutierrez, an administrative assistant in the School of Education, enrolled her daughter in the MDA camp for the first time. Gutierrez’s daughter, also named Dyla, has spinal muscular atrophy, a neuro-muscular genetic disease. In a twist of fate, six-year-old Dyla was able to have Lutz as her camp counselor.
“We felt very blessed to have Sarah,” Gutierrez said. “She is a sweet, caring and wonderful student. It was amazing how it worked out.”
Gutierrez recently began campaigning to raise money to help send children to the MDA summer camp. She is participating in a five-kilometer obstacle course for women, scheduled for November. Gutierrez’s goal is to raise $5,000, which is enough to send about 10 children to camp. The Gutierrez family, including husband Marco, a nursing major, will be one of six families featured on a segment on KPRC Channel 2 on Sunday, Sept. 2, talking about the Houston MDA Telethon. The family will also volunteer at KPRC to accept donations by phone.
“The camp is so wonderful, we decided we needed to give back in some way,” Gutierrez said. “We want other kids to have this opportunity too.”