By Cristina M. Molina
Just under an hour’s drive from the San Fernando Valley you’ll find a hole-in-the-wall. This isn’t your average, every day hole-in-the-wall. Here you will not find disheveled things or unhappy faces. At this particular hole-in-the-wall, you will find smiles, love, feelings of normalcy and plenty of laughter. This place is The Painted Turtle, a Hole in the Wall Camp.
The Hole in the Wall Camps were originally founded by the late and legendary Paul Newman. In 1999, The Painted Turtle became the sixth camp that Mr. Newman helped start, along with the help of Page Adler. Mrs. Adler, a well-known philanthropist, is the wife of Lou Adler. (Mr. Adler has made many contributions to the music industry, but is also known for always sitting courtside next to Jack Nicholson, at Lakers home games.) You may have recently heard more about The Painted Turtle on the latest season of Celebrity Apprentice, as this was the organization that Meat Loaf was competing for.
So what exactly is The Painted Turtle? In laymen’s terms, it’s a traditional summer camp for children ages 7—16. They offer activities such as horseback riding, swimming, arts and crafts, basketball, play productions, water and food fights and lots more! However, after you peel back a couple of layers, you’ll realize why this is no ordinary camp. The children who are served by The Painted Turtle have one thing in common: They are all chronically ill. Their medical conditions include: Crohn’s and colitis, kidney disease, severe burns, asthma, arthritis/rheumatic disease, liver transplant, skeletal dysplasia and more.
What makes The Painted Turtle a truly magical place is that every single camper is able to participate in the activities. No child is excluded from a day’s events regardless of what the events are. Even children who are wheelchair-bound are able to participate in the ropes course, high above the ground! Those campers who need to receive dialysis treatments have the activities brought indoors, to them! This camp truly takes the phrase “no child is left behind” to heart.
Each camper attends for a week during the summer months. In spring, winter and fall, the families of the campers are allowed to attend family weekend sessions where the entire family participates in the various camp activities. These precious weekends are extremely therapeutic not only for the campers, but for their parents and siblings as well.
The Painted Turtle’s facilities include the dining hall, where meals are shared, music plays and the children dance. The cabins are large and spacious to house several campers. There are stables and plenty of horses for the campers to ride. The state-of-the-art gym was donated by the Los Angeles Lakers and includes a full basketball court. The swimming pool was donated by Sea World and is shaped like a killer whale, with the tail providing a beach-type entry so some campers can use waterproof wheelchairs to enter the water without any limitations. The lake has boating and fishing activities for all, and the arts, crafts and woodshop buildings allow the campers to tap into their creative sides. Finally, there is a structure called The Well Shell. It’s shaped like a turtle’s shell and is where all of the volunteer doctors and nurses spend their time with the children. The walls are decorated with bright colors and each “hospital” room has a different theme. White, cold, bare walls are for hospitals, not for The Painted Turtle. The kids here truly forget that they are sick!
The most magical part of The Painted Turtle is that every camper attends for free, thanks to the hard work of volunteers and donations from various corporations and members of the community. I have personally volunteered there on a few occasions and am awestruck every time I return. I take my daughter with me each time and the wonderful feelings we leave with are indescribable. I encourage you to visit www.thepaintedturtle.org to learn more about helping out this inspiring organization.