Going to summer camp can be perceived as a childhood rite of passage. It’s a place for kids to cut loose and embrace their independence for a few special days. Whether it’s participating in new activities like fishing or archery, or bonding with fellow campers — camp can be a magical place that creates memories that last a lifetime.

Unfortunately for some kids who have medically complex conditions, the idea of going to summer camp doesn’t seem like an option. It can be especially true for children who require a wheelchair or rely on ventilators or feeding tubes to keep their health stable.

It wasn’t an option until a doctor from Seattle Children’s, Dr. Stanley Stamm, came up with a remarkable idea 50 years ago — create a summer camp catered specifically for kids who face serious medical challenges.

Every August since 1967, Seattle Children’s Stanley Stamm Summer Camp has given children with complex medical conditions the chance to step out of their diagnoses to “just be kids.”

Funded exclusively by generous donors so kids can attend for free, the week-long sleepover camp has become a powerful opportunity for campers to connect with peers, as well as former campers turned volunteers who understand what it’s like to live with a chronic illness.

Dedication to care at camp

Dr. Stanley Stamm during the early days of camp.

In creating the camp, Stamm understood that taking kids away from their regular doctor’s visits and treatments for a whole week in the woods would be a challenge.

With the help of charitable donors who laid the foundation for the camp, volunteers, including doctors and nurses, stepped up to offer their time to provide round-the-clock medical care and supervision to each and every camper so they could fully enjoy the experience.

Last year, the camp staffed about 250 volunteers, meaning each of the approximately 100 kids ages 6 to 14 had at least two to three volunteers attending to them at a given time.

The dedication of these donors and volunteers stem from Stamm’s continuous commitment throughout the 50 years the camp has existed.

At 92-years-old, Stamm still roams around the camp, helping kids out of their wheelchairs or walkers for a horseback ride or paddle around the lake. He even continues his nightly routine of tucking each camper into their bed.

If you ask Stamm what his favorite part of camp is, he’ll give you one simple response: “everything.”

An unforgettable experience

Olivia Huff, 5, before and after her chemotherapy treatments for neurofibromatosis type 1.

Glynn Huff admits she was hesitant the first time her daughter, Olivia, boarded the bus and waved goodbye as she headed to her first day at Stamm Camp.

“It was a bittersweet feeling,” Huff recalls. “Up until that point, I can’t remember a day spent away from Olivia.”

At only 7-months-old, Olivia was diagnosed with neurofibromatosis type 1, a rare genetic disorder that caused tumors on her optic nerves.

To prevent potential blindness caused by the tumors, Olivia went through 10 weeks of chemotherapy to treat the condition.

“It was difficult knowing that Olivia couldn’t participate in regular activities kids were doing because of her condition,” said Huff. “That’s why I looked for opportunities to help Olivia reach as many childhood milestones as possible regardless of her medical situation.”

Huff first heard about Stamm Camp through a co-worker whose son had attended.

Olivia, 13, boards the bus for her first Stamm Camp.

“I knew it would be a perfect fit for Olivia’s adventurous personality, so I enrolled her as soon as I could,” she said.

Caring for her daughter’s needs became a normal part of Huff’s daily life, so at first it felt strange being away from Olivia.

“All of a sudden, she was whisked away and I didn’t see her for five whole days,” said Huff. ”But later on, I understood that it was a positive learning experience for both of us — I was so happy that she could finally enjoy things on her own, and so could I.”

Beginning at age 13, Olivia attended the camp for two memorable years in a row.

Her favorite activities included horseback riding in the forest, fishing for trout, and arts and crafts sessions with the new friends she made.

“But I have to say that my favorite part as a camper was when we got the chance to dunk our counselors in the dunk tank during the last day of camp,” Olivia said as she giggles.

Being a lifelong camper and Stamm Camp’s legacy

Olivia and Dr. Stamm reunited at Stamm Camp’s 50th Anniversary Celebration.

Now 22 years old, Olivia has devoted each summer for the past four years to volunteering at Stamm Camp.

“I’m giving back to the place that gave so much to me as a kid,” said Olivia.

Volunteering at the camp has become a family tradition. Huff and her husband, Jim, also offer their time as volunteers.

Glynn provides her skills as a registered nurse, helping to administer medications and other health-related care to the campers. Jim, a former U.S. Navy member, helps by supervising waterfront activities.

“Olivia and her family spread joy and enthusiasm to everyone at camp each year,” said Michele Rebert, Stamm Camp program manager. “I especially love seeing Olivia talk to the current campers and telling fun stories about her own camp experience.”

As the 50th year of camp wrapped up in mid-August, Olivia and her family said they are already looking forward to next year.

“Stamm Camp is the highlight of our summer every year. I can’t wait to see the whole crew of returning campers and volunteers next year, as well as meeting the new wide-eyed and excited campers,” Huff said.

Olivia recognizes that her camp experience wouldn’t have been possible without Stamm’s lasting legacy, a team of dedicated volunteers, and the support of Seattle Children’s generous community of donors.

“I hope that the camp will go on for another fifty years so every kid, no matter what they’re going through, can enjoy a magical summer camp experience like I did,” said Olivia.

You can sustain the camp for generations of campers to come. Your support will help continue Dr. Stamm’s work to give every camper, regardless of their health issues, a sense of fun, normalcy and connection. Visit giveto.seattlechildrens.org/StammCamp50 to donate.