Eric Wood is our featured associate this month. [...]
I learned about Vent Kids of Alabama through a connection with its founder Kara Snead Bishop. Kara’s son, Corey, is on a ventilator. In 2002, she started the non-profit support group for families with children living at home on ventilators. Her vision and mission for Vent Kids is to provide the best quality of life possible for these children by focusing on what they can do instead of what they can’t do. And these kids can do a lot! Their big event each year is Light the Way Camp, held at Children’s Harbor. This is my sixth year volunteering to cook meals and help in any other way I can for the week-long camp. We usually have around 15-20 families, which means close to 150 people since parents, siblings and nurses accompany the camper. There is a lot of work to be done in the kitchen, preparing three meals a day and cleaning up.
During other times of the day, I have the opportunity to interact with the kids and help with activities. One thing volunteers often spend time doing is playing with the siblings of the vent kids so that parents can spend one-on-one time with the child.
Because the families usually have so many financial expenses, sometimes this is their only family vacation. It’s a great one for the entire family though with a swimming pool, lake, putt-putt golf, volleyball and more. It might seem like these activities would only be for parents and siblings, but it’s amazing how much the vent kids are able to participate. Some of the kids can come off of their ventilators for a short period of time and get into small boats for the swimming pool. Volunteers provide boats and their time through Children’s Harbor so that the kids can go on boat rides as well.
It’s also nice for the families to have a vacation where they don’t have to worry about being stared at in public. It’s natural that many of us do that – there are wheelchairs, beeping parts and ventilators — and people are naturally curious. But at camp, they don’t have to worry about the curiosity because everyone has the same issues. I remember a little girl coming to camp and saying to her mom, “Look, everybody is just like me!” This is important for siblings too, because it gives them the chance to interact with others who understand their circumstances.
Since 98% of the vent kids are in wheel chairs with a lot of accompanying equipment, volunteers become so helpful with carrying bags and getting the child from one place to another. To me, carrying a bag may not seem like much, but it means the world to a mother who is trying to get her child onto the pier for a boat ride.
It’s very rewarding to be able to help in these ways, but it can be hard at times. A lot of the kids aren’t able to speak, so communicating with them can be difficult. It’s really their smiles and reactions that let us know how they feel and what they are thinking; not words. Those methods of communicating can be even more powerful.
I look forward to camp every year, and this year it will be held May 26-31. I would encourage others to volunteer as well. There are opportunities for the entire week or for just one meal. It’s a great way for churches or other groups to provide a service that means the world to this special group of kids and their families. Find more information on the Vent Kids of Alabama Facebook page.