By Cherri Gregg
MEDFORD, N.J. (CBS) — Camp Bright Feathers is a free overnight summer camp for kids infected and affected by HIV.
Ninety campers from age 6 to 18 are spending the week having outdoor fun.
“We’re horseback riding, boating, doing archery, swimming and messy arts and crafts,” exclaimed one camper.
It’s a break from the real life stigma, medicines and worry of HIV.
“My mother is HIV positive, I never told anyone, and no one knows besides me and my little brothers,” says one 17-year-old camper. “You’re actually the first person I have ever told. I’m not really comfortable with it so I just kept it in.”
The high-schooler has been coming to Camp Bright Feathers since he was six years old. The future basketball player or veterinarian says it’s the highlight of his summer.
“I actually look forward to coming here,” he says, “when I’m come here I can get my mind off it for a while and I can have fun, can do things I want to do without worrying about my mom.”
But it’s not all fun. There’s a lot of real talk.
“The different programs that we have are designed to get kids to open up,” says William Brawner, director of Camp Bright Feathers. The 34-year-old contracted HIV when a severe burn required that he get a blood transfusion as a toddler. The blood was infected with HIV.
“Some of the same issues I had, they are going through right now,” says Brawner, who graduated from Howard University and is now executive director of Haven Youth Center.
“It is a safe place for them to feel comfortable about who they really are,” says Brawner. “We talk about everything, relationships, molestation, other STD-s whatever they want to talk about.”
Participants are referred to Camp Bright Feathers by area hospitals. Brawner says most of the young children do not know their status or the status of the close family member infected with HIV, but the older children are fully aware. So Brawner’s “talks” have been invaluable for the older children.
“I’ve only told one person that I actually have HIV and that’s in my whole entire life,” says an 18-year-old camper, who was born with HIV.
A future chef and restaurateur, he says HIV is something he rarely thinks about and rarely shares with friends, but at Camp Bright Feathers, it’s a little different.
“I love this place. It’s really a safe haven where you can feel safe and express yourself,” he says. “I would like the people I met here to be my friends for a long time.”
In its 22nd year, Camp Bright Feathers is free, thanks to volunteer counselors and services donated by YMCA Camp Ockanickon, Inc. For more, go to campbrightfeathers.com.