A Place Where Love and Laughter Heals a Spirit

Meet Lisa Duggan, a Child Life Specialist at Albany Medical Center and a former counselor at Double H Ranch. Lisa has seen first hand how camp love and laughter can heal a child’s spirit – both at camp and in the hospital. Hear more of Lisa’s story:

My experiences with Serious Fun Camps began in 1988 at the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp.  My father was a contractor involved in the carpentry and construction of the camp.  I attended a party, hosted by Paul Newman, to celebrate the grand opening of camp.  I was fourteen years old at the time, and the magic of Serious Fun Camps had already begun to impact my life.

As I was preparing for my senior year of college, I thought a lot about the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp and how meaningful it would be to become part of their staff.  While researching employment, I discovered that Hole in the Wall had a sister camp right in my backyard, the Double H Ranch!  After meeting Max Yurenda, I knew that 1995 would be one of the best summers of my life as a counselor at HH.  That summer, I learned that love and laughter can heal the spirit.  I loved that camp provided structure and safety, yet it also allowed for freedom, celebrations, choices, fun, and a place where laughter and goofiness is celebrated, even while receiving infusions in the Body Shop.  As a camp counselor, I was aware of the campers’ medical needs, but medications were given in the middle of baseball fields or by the pool or on a ropes course.  Kids were allowed to be kids, even though they were facing some serious medical issues.

One of my favorite memories of camp was during a talent show.  There was a young camper whose parents had instructed us that the camper needed to use his walker daily.  This camper did not like his walker.  Though this camper was non-verbal, it was very obvious to all of us that he greatly preferred his wheelchair.  We were very excited that this camper decided to utilize his “walker time” during the talent show.  He joined our cabin onstage for a group song and dance.  Then, he refused to leave the stage.  This camper decided to show off his skills by boosting himself up on the walker and swinging back and forth.  The applause was deafening and his smile was huge!  After his unexpected display of talent and the tremendous support from the audience, that camper changed to only wanting to use his walker for the rest of camp.  This is what HH is all about: courage to try something new, the support of great friends, and the pride that comes along with the smiles.

My path has crossed with Double H several more times throughout the years.  I had the pleasure of returning to HH in 2007 to work in the Admissions Office with Tara.  One of my jobs was to pick up a family at the Albany Airport who were coming to HH with 2 campers for Camp Inspiration.  This family was new to HH and the mother spent the hour-long van ride from the airport expressing her frustration that she could not find any summer programming near her hometown for her daughters because of their medical conditions.  As we rounded the bend of Hidden Valley Road, this mother’s tears of frustration turned to tears of joy!  The road was lined with at least twenty counselors, volunteers, and program staff clapping and cheering for this family’s arrival.  That welcome gave me goosebumps and that family immediately experienced the love of the of our HH Family.

My most recent involvement is through the Camp On-The-Go program, run by Scott Liloia.  I was a Child Life Specialist at the Children’s Hospital at Albany Medical Center when Scott approached our Child Life team about expanding his Hospital Outreach programs to include bedside visits.  It has been exciting to see this program blossom as Scott and his team bring the much-needed spirit of camp into the hospital environment.  The patients, families and staff are always excited when Scott comes with his cart of fun activities and his campfire.  Scott is able to do what every Child Life Specialist wishes they had time to do: spend quality time playing with hospitalized children.  It sounds so simple, and yet, the impact is tremendous.  I have seen patients transform into spirited, happy children when Camp On-The-Go comes to their hospital room.  Camp On-The-Go is an invaluable asset to our Child Life Program as that camp spirit spreads amongst staff and our “hospital campers”.

Congratulations to the Double H Ranch as you celebrate your 25th anniversary!  I am so proud to be a part of the Double H family!

Lisa M. Duggan
Child Life Specialist, The Children’s Hospital at Albany Medical Center

Thanks for sharing your Camp story, Lisa! To learn more about the Hospital Outreach Program and how you can get involved, visit: https://www.doublehranch.org/programs/hospital-outreach-program/