My Time as a Camp Courage Volunteer with the MPS Society

Dan Leonard | October 02, 2012

Lisa O'Donnell is Associate Director for Information & Records Management at Genzyme, but this summer she filled another role as a volunteer for the MPS Society's Family Conference. Here she shares her experience:

The National MPS Society held its annual Family Conference in Boston this year from July 26-28. One thing that makes this conference so successful year after year is Camp Courage, a unique child-care center for MPS patients and their siblings that has become an essential part of the conference. It gives parents, family members and other care-givers the ability – not to mention peace of mind – to spend their time learning about the latest developments in research, treatment, legislation, and many other topics offered at the conference. Because this year’s meeting was in Boston, it offered Genzyme and Sanofi employees an opportunity to contribute to the MPS community in a different and more meaningful way.

Genzyme’s Patient Advocacy group asked me if I would serve as a volunteer coordinator for Camp Courage and I readily accepted. My job was to promote the event within the company and to recruit colleagues interested in helping out with child care for this very special group of kids. I posted an announcement on the company intranet and the response was immediate – more than 30 employees wanted to participate! Every volunteer expressed a desire to make a more personal contribution to the communities we serve. Our “day jobs” can feel fairly removed from the people our products help, and Camp Courage offered us a way to meet some of the children and families whose lives are positively impacted by the treatments we make.  

Our roles as volunteers were fairly simple – to have fun with the kids and to maintain a safe environment. With expert guidance from Coach Jerry and Chris of BModFitness we were able to do both! It was a productive and rewarding experience for everyone involved, most importantly for the kids. They, along with the volunteers, got to color, play video games, interact with a magician, listen to a story-teller, watch movies, and even pretend to be sailing the ocean in plastic tub originally intended as a toy box (the kids re-purposed it as a pirate ship!). Sometimes the kids just needed a quiet cuddle, and those moments were some of the most precious of the volunteers’ experience.

Some impressions from the volunteers:

“I work in Research & Development. Helping out at Camp Courage was a total departure from my typical day in the lab. At first I wondered what I could do to entertain the children but it turns out I did not need to worry, they entertained me! Time flew by as I colored, giggled, refereed, and yes, occasionally removed a climber off of the furniture. I walked away energized and inspired by the children and their families.”   - Karen

“One little boy really loved for me to carry him. Another little boy came to hug me before he left with his family members. I will never forget these touching moments that inspire me and give huge motivation to my work.”  - Yuanyuan

“I shared my experience with my family. It created an awareness we did not have before and it made us think about how we invest our time and energy in our daily roles. I was touched by the care and collaboration of the kids’ siblings.”   - Alina

A few employees brought their own kids to volunteer at Camp Courage and they added:

“I took my teenage son to participate. After we were finished with our volunteer session and were leaving, he thanked me twice for bringing him to the event. I wasn’t expecting that, but it warmed my heart that he valued the experience so highly.” - James

“I've worked at Genzyme for 13 years and I don't think my kids understood why Mom goes to work every day and what I do. They now know that at the end of the day, what I do may help a special boy or a special girl who is suffering with a chronic disease, but they also know that that special boy or girl is very much like them.”  - Janna

Speaking for myself, I think I got much more than I gave. It was such a tremendous opportunity to interact with the children and gain a better appreciation of the challenges some families face. I was touched by the willingness the children showed by by letting me into their world. The siblings were also incredible as they engaged not only with their own brothers and sisters, but with all the children, bringing an energy and excitement that kids only get from other being around other kids. It may be cliché, but kids really are kids no matter their circumstance. I can’t thank the MPS Society enough for allowing us this opportunity. I loved spending time at Camp Courage! How could I not? It involved having fun with kids, meeting new people, supporting wonderful families, working with the MPS Society and renewing my sense of pride in Genzyme.

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