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Project Kindle to bring SCV camp

Search on to identify location to site camp for children with HIV/AIDS

Posted: June 22, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: June 22, 2012 1:55 a.m.

From left, Program Coordinator Erin FitzGerald, Camp Director Alison Boring, Executive Director Eva Payne, and Administration and PR Specialist Trina Harrison discuss plans for Kindle Ranch at their Valencia office.

 

Doctors ruled out dozens of possible diseases and couldn't explain why a healthy-born boy, Brryan Jackson, 5, was dying.

It was absurd to test him for HIV - no one in his family carried the virus and he had never had blood transfusions, but it was their last resort.

When the test came back, it was positive. He was diagnosed with AIDS in its last stages.

An investigation revealed that the boy was intentionally injected with HIV-tainted blood by his father, Brian Stewart.

He worked as a phlebotomist and had access to contaminated blood; he wanted his son dead, so he wouldn't have to pay child support. Stewart was convicted of first-degree assault; he is now serving his sentence, life in prison, according to the Associated Press.

The story became national news in the 1990s and haunted Jackson for many years.

Growing up with AIDS was tough, Jackson recalled. He was often singled out and bullied. He wasn't allowed to drink from the water fountain. Never invited to birthday parties, the boy was often depressed.

At age 13, Jackson went to Camp Kindle. It was an experience that changed his life.

 

Giving back

Camp Kindle is a free one-week camp for kids who are infected with, or affected by HIV or AIDS. It is run by a Santa Clarita Valley-based nonprofit organization, Project Kindle, and is held twice a year in Frazier Park and Lincoln, Neb.

The camp was founded in 1998 by 21-year-old Eva Payne, a student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Payne wanted to make a difference. Having spent the summers of her childhood at camps, she wanted to give back to the community by starting Camp Kindle.

"I didn't have anyone in my life that was affected by the disease, I just wanted to make a difference, and this was a cause that just kept coming up," Payne said.

Born and raised in Agoura Hills, Payne started her organization in Nebraska, while she was in college, and then moved with her family to SCV, bringing the headquarters of the nonprofit here.

She is now the founder and CEO of Project Kindle and a mother of six.

In the last 14 years, Project Kindle expanded into a nonprofit organization that offers multiple camping sessions for children with a variety of diseases and life challenges. It also offers a year-round support for its campers; a peer led speakers' bureau, a scholarship fund and variety of educational programs.

 

Collaborative force

A new ambition of Project Kindle could be a breakthrough statewide program that unites dozens of nonprofits in Southern California. It will include building a residential camp, which will be available to the network of collaborative organizations serving children with physical, medical, emotional and socioeconomic challenges.

The idea for this residential camp came from similar structures in Texas and Georgia. In Atlanta, there are two facilities available for 60 different camp programs, helping children and adults suffering from a broad spectrum of illnesses including heart diseases, multiple sclerosis, cancer, autism, etc., said Payne.

"There are different health challenges, but it's the same love and the same atmosphere in each camp," she said.

"We think it's a fabulous idea," said Rick Gould, director of Parks, Recreation and Community Service at the city of Santa Clarita. "Bringing more nonprofits together makes this project stronger."

"We really want this to be a community project," said Payne.

The 100-percent handicapped accessible facility is intended to operate year-round, with participant nonprofits dividing time to host camp programs.

Project Kindle has been laying ground work for Kindle Ranch for a few years. Organizers have put together a capital campaign committee and a medical advisory board. Engineers and architects have been consulted and have created a general plan for the venue. Project Kindle has also partnered with the city of Santa Clarita in a search for a perfect location for the camp in SCV.

"Once we secure the land, it will all happen really quick, like a snowball," said Payne.

She explained that the land acquisition will bring a wave of large contributions from donors, many of whom have already expressed desire to support the project as soon as the building starts.

 

Local Start

While the search for land continues, Kindle Ranch begins as a one week day camp in the SCV this month. Project Kindle received $15,000 grant money from Boston Scientific to help fund the program.

A free camp for kids with chronic illnesses and life challenges, ages 7 to 12, will be held at the Placerita Canyon Nature Center June 25 - 29, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The day camp can welcome up to 50 children and currently continues to recruit both children and volunteer staff members. Since the young campers require special attention to their health, the goal of Project Kindle is to enforce one-on-one ratio of campers and counselors.

At Kindle Ranch Day Camp, the kids will attend classes of art, music, science and math; they will be encouraged to learn something new.

"We also focus in our programs on character development and health education," said Payne.

 

An advocate

"Our camp is a place where kids feel safe and can tell their stories without stigmas. When they go home, they seem more confident, with more self-esteem," said Erin FitzGerald, program coordinator at Project Kindle.

That's what happened with Jackson, said Payne.

"When he first came to the camp, he was so shy, he didn't talk to anyone," Payne said. "I remember he would just cry every day because of what he was dealing with."

In a week of camp, he transformed into a happier and more secure child, said Payne. Jackson came back to the camp every year, taking a lead in the camp's Speak Out Program, where he was able to share his story with other teenagers.

Now 21 and in improved health Jackson is able to attend college. He has become an outspoken advocate for HIV research and education. He has also founded a nonprofit organization called Hope Is Vital (HIV) and appeared three times before Congress.

"Before I went to camp, I wasn't open about HIV; I wanted to get away from that problem," said Jackson. "Camp Kindle was a place where I could be honest about my situation. I realized I can be defined not by the disease I have, but by who I want to be, and that inspired me."

For more information about Project Kindle or Kindle Ranch Day Camp, visit www.projectkindle.org.

 

 

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