For Mike Kent, camp is a place where he had the opportunity to just be a kid, but would later learn how these camp experiences would shape his future. Mike first discovered the Double H Ranch as a teenager. He started attending camp at Double H Ranch in the summer of 1993 at the age of 15, and had recently completed his therapy for acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Mike attended camp for three summers, but then became one of the first campers to become a counselor. Today, Mike is a Pediatric Hematology-Oncology doctor at Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital, in New Haven, CT. We caught up with Mike to find out how his journey at camp has helped to shape who he is today.
What do you remember about your summers as a camper?
I loved my first summer as a camper at Double H Ranch. I was surprised with how different the feel was from other camps that I had attended prior. We stayed in hotel-like rooms, and the camp was in the woods. I was a little scared when I first got there, especially since I knew no one, and had never been to Upstate, NY. However, I quickly bonded with my roommate that summer, Nick, who to this date is one of my best friends.
I remember thinking how cool my counselors were, such great role models, P.J. Motsiff, was my favorite. Camp was very different back then, the cabins were known by location, such as dot s dot, or heart hanging heart – not by the animal names that they are now known by. I was a camper for three summers. The highlights of those first few summers were always the talent show and wish boat ceremony.
What inspired you to become a camp Counselor?
I loved camp as a camper and loved working with others, so I jumped at the chance to be a CIT (Counselor in Training) in the summer of 1996. Being a CIT was such a fun role, it was difficult at first making the transition from camper to counselor, your focus changes. Suddenly, you are the one taking care of other campers. I think there were a lot of people that inspired me to be a camp counselor because Double H was always such a fun and nurturing environment.
What do you remember about your summers as a counselor?
My first few summers as a counselor were great, I remember being so exhausted by the end of every summer, but wishing that the summer was longer. Camp was my summer escape, my home away from home. As a Counselor and Unit Leader I met some of my best friends; Nick Amiccucci, Mark Doyle, Kevin McCaffrey, Jim Donovan any many others.
Being a counselor was one of the big reasons why I went into medicine. I loved helping others, and camp gave me the opportunity to meet and have fun with kids with so many different types of illnesses. I was amazed at how brave the kids I worked with were, how much they had to go through day in, day out.
What made you decide to go to medical school?
I had the opportunity to watch Dr’s. Kathy Braico, Ray Walsh, Joanne Porter and Jennifer Pearce work in the Body Shop, and see how amazing they were with the campers. As my years at camp ended, I knew the next step for me was to continue to help these kids in other ways, and for me that meant medical school. In March of 2003, I got an email from Dr. Ray Walsh, that I’d been accepted to Albany Medical College. Not only would I have a chance to go to Medical School, but work with many of the doctors that were from camp!
What is one of your best camp memories?
It’s hard to name just one, every summer had so many! But I think the wish boat ceremonies were the best. Only at the boat ceremony would you see kids sad because their time at camp was coming to an end. It was just as emotional for the staff as for the campers.
How have your camp experiences influenced you in your professional career?
Camp helped me grow as an individual, taught me how to care for others, and to be there even if times get tough. When I hear about a patient in clinic it often reminds me of a camper I had years ago. I try and teach as best I can to medical students, residents and fellows that I work with that a child’s time in the hospital is only one side of that child. Seeing them have fun, and being kids is such huge part of understanding your patient.
What would you say to a child that is thinking of attending Double H Ranch?
Camp allows kids to forget about their illness, be kids, have fun and like Paul Newman said so many years ago “raise a little hell”. As a camper and counselor, I did just that! If you are a child thinking about coming to Double H don’t hesitate, it may just create a lifetime of friends, memories and may even shape your future. Double H Ranch is a place where you can feel free to be yourself, and have a ton of fun in the process!
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