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A cool, helping hand for kids

Out of My Head

Posted: October 4, 2008 9:03 p.m.
Updated: December 6, 2008 5:00 a.m.
 

In 2004, when I made my first trip to the Painted Turtle Camp in Lake Hughes, I knew I was in for something special.

My friend and tour guide for the day, Frank Hovore, would be unveiling the new and unique camp to me. Designed to serve children with life-threatening illnesses and their families, the Painted Turtle allows “kids to be kids” in a medically supervised environment that’s safe, exhilarating, and filled with laughter.

As we drove, Frank explained that the camp was nestled along 173 acres in a scenic valley surrounded by tree-laden hills, a serene lake, and the calming sounds of nature. He also told me the Painted Turtle is part of the Hole in the Wall Camps that were originally inspired and founded by Paul Newman.

Yes, Paul Newman, that same grrr-baby-sexy, ice-blue-eyed, Oscar-winning, contented normal husband to actress Joanne Woodward (for 48 years), Hollywood-hoopla-avoiding, race car-loving hunk I’d grown up admiring (and like most red-blooded females, um, sort of desiring) legendary movie star.
Frank, a world-respected tropical biologist who helped co-author the Endangered Species Act (and, sadly, died while on an expedition in Ecuador two years ago), had big plans that day. He was about to give an in-service to the young Painted Turtle staff counselors and volunteers who would be working at the facility.

Having helped create the camp’s flora-scape and serving as eco- mentor, Frank was to instruct these new folks about what natural “toxic” plants to avoid and what to do when encountering rattlesnakes, poisonous spiders or other wild creatures.

What I discovered once we arrived at the Painted Turtle was something out of a humanitarian fantasy.
There’s a beautifully designed rustic camp village, replete with a “Well Shell,” (a state-of-the-art medical facility with a turtle shell-shaped roof and tropical paradise interior); a 22-acre lake and boathouse; a recreation center including a gym and game room; an arts and crafts center; a dining hall; heated pool with wheelchair-ramp and warming hut; an adventure ropes course, equestrian center and riding trails; archery range; campfire circle and organic orchard.

All of this was created just as Paul Newman planned it to be.

All of this is provided free of charge to children 6-17 (and their families) who have been affected by devastating diseases and disabilities, including: amputations, arthritis, severe asthma, severe burns, Crohn’s and colitis, diabetes, hemophilia/von Willebrand factor disease/transfusion-dependent thalassemia, kidney disease, limb abnormalities, liver transplant, muscular dystrophy, orthopedic conditions, Prader-Willi Syndrome, primary immunodeficiency diseases, skeletal dysplasia (dwarfism), and spina bifida.

Although the Painted Turtle is “over the hill” a ways, many children from the Santa Clarita Valley use its outstanding and diversified services, replete with expert medical care, fireside marshmallow roasts, fishing, games, and fun.

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After so many stellar decades in Hollywood and acquiring just about every creature comfort anyone could ask for, you’d have thought Newman would have been happy sitting out his AARP years, letting the world go by.

Guided by an angel’s activist heart, however, he was meant for greater heights. So he created the Newman’s Own food product empire.

Some $250 million has been raised and given to charities through the actor-chef-philanthropist’s extraordinary generosity. And, of course, his kindness and vision are reflected in the camps he helped create.

Staffed by professional and compassionate doctors, nurses, therapists and other volunteers, the Painted Turtle has, to date, served more than 6,500 campers, siblings and parents. Nearly 90 percent of its campers and families are from California, and all camp sessions are illness-specific.

The Painted Turtle, along with other Hole in the Wall camps in this nation and those in other countries, have allowed some 135,000 children a joyous camp-respite from their ongoing health challenges.
These are children who would otherwise miss out on “normal” recreational experiences. Instead, they get to participate in thrilling, confidence-inducing, medical-staffed adventures — all the while forging lasting friendships with kindred spirits that understand one another’s burdens.

The humble Mr. Newman eloquently wrote of these camps:

“I wish I could recall with clarity the impulse that compelled me to help bring this camp into being. I’d be pleased if I could announce a motive of lofty purpose.

“I’ve been accused of compassion, of altruism, of devotion to Christian, Hebrew, and Moslem ethic, but however desperate I am to claim ownership of a high ideal, I cannot.

“I wanted, I think, to acknowledge ‘luck’; the chance of it, the benevolence of it in my life, and the brutality of it in the lives of others, made especially savage for children because they may not be allowed the good fortune of a lifetime to correct it.”

Once described by film director Otto Preminger as the Jewish actor who didn’t look Jewish, Newman was, and always will be, in a class of his own — a mensch’s mensch. 

In the wake of the Hole in the Wall founder’s passing, a hole in our hearts now remains. It’s always painful to lose a living legend, even more difficult when they’ve touched our souls with their selfless humanity.

If you’d like to honor Paul Newman’s exceptional legacy, I invite you to learn more about the Painted Turtle and how you can help support the kids who had the good fortune of being loved by this rare and beautiful human being.

Diana Sevanian is a Santa Clarita resident. Her column reflects her own opinion and not necessarily those of The Signal.

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