Camp Boggy Creek's new golf cart will help kids and administrators get around the sprawling campgrounds
Camp Boggy Creek, backed up into a bank of rolling hills off State Route 44 in Eustis, Florida, has a dining hall adorned with homemade banners, an arts and crafts center, a crackerjack science hall and a barn full of horses. The grounds are overrun by giggling groups of kids and a troop of dedicated, college-aged counselors. There are hokey songs, water hose fights and piles of grilled cheese sandwiches at lunch.
In other words, as Camp Boggy Creek administrators are fond of saying, "It's camp. Just like any other camp."
Except, of course, that it's not.
Camp Boggy Creek is also a first-rate medical facility, which is the only reason it can welcome thousands of children who are fighting serious illnesses each year. The medical building at the middle of campus – "The Patch" – makes it all possible, but there are other necessary touches built subtly into the rest of the facilities. There are dialysis drains behind some bunk beds, for instance, and the camp's enormous pool has a gentle slope at one end to allow easy access for wheelchair riders.
Camp Boggy Creek is a member of The Association of Hole in the Wall Camps, a program launched by Paul Newman in 1988. Opened in 1996, it is one of five of its kind in the United States, though more are on the way, here and overseas. On this Tuesday in late May, it is the home of approximately 130 kids, ages seven to 16, who are battling cancer, one of the 14 types of illnesses the camp is equipped to handle. Different groups with different challenges will rotate into camp during nine summer sessions.
On this day, Camp Boggy Creek is also the home to another unique item, courtesy of the Glazer Family Foundation and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Eager to throw their support behind such an impressive and uplifting place, the Glazer Family Foundation donated a brand-new and much-needed golf cart to the camp.
It is the stretch limo of golf carts, able to seat a driver and five passengers, and it is tricked out in bright Buccaneer red. It arrived at the doorstep of the Camp Boggy Creek dining hall on Tuesday in one piece, which was a bit of luck given that it was driven up the street by team mascot Captain Fear. Clearly more adept at working the horn than steering or braking, the heavily-muscled Captain Fear somehow got the cart up to the dining hall just in time to be swarmed over by hungry campers streaming out of the Discovery Center.
The children were delighted by the Captain's antics and eager to climb inside the cart, though they were soon directed into the dining hall. In the weeks and months to come, these campers and others to follow, as well as camp administrators, will use the cart to travel all over the 232 woody acres on which the camp is situated. Though it stands out amid all the green with its bright red paint and Buc logos, the new Boggy Creek cart is a very practical grant from the Glazer Family Foundation.
"This is an important foundation for the Buccaneers to support," said Eric Land, the team's chief operating officer, who was on hand Tuesday to hand over the keys. "The Glazer Family Foundation researched the work [being done] here, and felt that it meets exactly the goals and the objectives of the Foundation. We're just very excited to be part of the process here and to be able to provide some assistance."
June Clark, the camp's executive director, stressed that all of the facilities, while made possible through an initial $23 million investment, now run solely on contributions. None of the campers or their parents are ever charged for their time at Boggy Creek, as the facility strives to keep its doors open to all children who deserve some fun time outdoors.
"That's what it's all about, giving back to these kids and ensuring that they have the time of their lives while they're here," said Clark. "They're having a great time on the golf cart, and it helps a lot in terms of getting the kids around the camp."
Arrayed around the dining hall are 16 cabins for lodging, all of them identical and split between camper and counselor housing. Inside, each of the kids' beds are adorned with a handmade quilt and a handmade Boggy Bear, which they take with them when they leave. None of the beds have white sheets, which would be an unnecessary reminder of the hospital stays that are so common for these campers the rest of the year. The necessary medical accoutrements are added to the room subtly, and hopefully used infrequently.
The Patch is down the road a bit from the dining hall, and it too is designed to keep medical issues from subtracting from the fun. Examination rooms are painted with happy murals and even the exam tables themselves are transformed into hippos or dinosaurs.
"This camp is for seriously ill children," said Clark, adding that the camp serves children fighting such issues as cancer, heart disease, severe asthma, epilepsy, hemophilia and kidney disease. "We have a full-time medical director and a full-time nursing director, so we have a lot of medical oversight here. These kids basically cannot go to a regular camp, so without all the medical components to support all the activities, we really couldn't do all of this. So we appreciate foundations and corporations and folks such as the Bucs who come out and help us."
A tour of the grounds also uncovered the impressive swimming facilities, an extremely popular wood-working shop, a lake with paddleboats and canoes, a theater and the aforementioned science center, which specializes in the type of fun experiments that end with exploding soda bottles and the like.
The Buccaneer cart found the perfect spot for its introduction, however, as the dining room was big enough to bring all of the camp's current guests together for a meal that seemed more like a party. Captain Fear fit right in, joining in the dancing, cheering and general goofing off that accompanied lunch. The meal ended with an extended "Web of Kindness," in which campers were given the opportunity to share their thanks with counselors and other campers. The line for the microphone was long.
To witness the lunch, which ended with a round of inspirational songs, was to know that the Glazer Family Foundation had found an extraordinarily good cause to support. Established in 1999 by Buccaneers owner Malcolm Glazer, the foundation has given away nearly $3 million in grants to organizations that help children and families in need.
"To do something like this for children who are challenged, and to make their lives easier while they're at camp, I can't imagine using the Glazer Family funds in a better effort than this," said Land. "It's heartwarming to know that our dollars can help children who are having a tough time. Maybe this and the visit from Captain Fear today can help brighten their lives. I think it will be something they will never forget."
Camp Boggy Creek's mission statement is as follows:
"The mission of Camp Boggy Creek is to enrich the lives of children who have chronic or life-threatening illnesses by creating camping experiences that are memorable, exciting, fun, empowering, physically safe and medically sound."