Stroke Camp allows survivors and their caregivers to embrace life- Dean - WI

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Published on October 20, 2017

Stroke Camp allows survivors and their caregivers to embrace life

Personal and present care doesn’t just happen in a hospital or clinic setting. Sometimes it happens on the banks of a lake in central Wisconsin.

The inaugural SSM Health Stroke Camp was held earlier this month at the Green Lake Conference Center in Green Lake. Eleven stroke survivors and ten caregivers attended the weekend retreat. Staff members from Retreat & Refresh Stroke Camp, a nonprofit organization out of Peoria, IL, facilitated the event while a dozen volunteers—10 of them SSM Health staff and volunteers—helped out.

Stroke Camp provides a much-needed getaway for survivors and their caregivers, offering them the chance to relax and socialize with others who have been through a similar experience. Staff and volunteers provided the campers with support and education, and the campers bonded over their common challenges and successes. During three breakout sessions, stroke survivors and caregivers shared their personal stories of hope, gratitude, and perseverance with their peers. Many tears were shed during the breakout sessions.

“Capable facilitators from Stroke Camp staff led these groups,” wrote one camper. “We were treated with dignity and compassion. We were allowed to share if we chose, or just listen. This was a most cathartic time for everyone.”

Breakout sessions were balanced by educational opportunities, team-building activities, and free time.

In terms of education, the Retreat & Refresh staff brought a library of books for campers and volunteers to enjoy throughout the weekend that covered a wide range of topics for stroke survivors and their caregivers. In addition, an occupational therapist lead an educational session to discuss novel approaches to common challenges that stroke survivors encounter.

The team-building activities culminated on Saturday night when everyone dressed up for an evening of fun at the Stroke Camp Saloon. The campers, staff and volunteers danced, played games and even sang karaoke as teams. The campers also enjoyed the chance to relax and watch a skit performed by volunteers and Retreat & Refresh staff.

There were many different activities for the campers to enjoy during their free time. Volunteers helped survivors and caregivers who wanted to go fishing, take a pontoon boat ride on the lake, or ride a golf cart around the beautiful grounds. Campers also took walks, or just sat on the beach with a book. Some campers chose indoor activities during their free time, as well. Volunteers helped with manicures, massages, paraffin dips, and crafts such as hat decorating, card making, and coloring.

For everyone involved, this very special weekend was all about the connections that were made, the bonds that were formed, and the love that was shared with each other.

“Being a volunteer at Stroke Camp is one of the most valuable experiences I’ve ever had,” said Valerie Klitzke, Program Development Facilitator at the SSM Health Outpatient Center. “While I was responsible for helping survivors and caregivers with their meals, tasks and activities, I found that they were helping me just as much in return. We formed bonds—we laughed together at the activities, we cheered for each other during competitions, we listened carefully together during educational events and we cried together during the breakout sessions as we shared our personal stories.”

We want to say a sincere thank you to SSM Health St. Mary’s Foundation - Madison for providing the financial support to make this camp possible. The goal is to offer the SSM Health Stroke Camp to patients and their caregivers every year. Thank you also to all of the volunteers from SSM Health.

“These people truly exemplified what caring and kindness is all about by giving their weekend time to us,” wrote one camper. “The time went by so quickly, but it is a weekend that will remain in our hearts for many months ahead. We ended our Sunday as a group in a prayerful worship service. We were all reminded that each day is a gift to celebrate … Our prayers will be lifted in gratitude for (SSM Health).”

As a show of their gratitude, Stroke Camp participants donated 128 pounds of food and personal care items to the Catholic Multicultural Center in Madison. 

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