Better than Christmas

Nearly 100 campers spend a week at the Muscular Dystrophy Association's annual summer camp
by: Barbara Adams, After lunch, MDA campers Michelle Pardo of Estacada, right, and her friend Emily go to a carnival sponsored by the Rotary Club at Camp Arrah Wanna in Welches.

'Gunner, put your seatbelt on!' says Muscular Dystrophy Association camp counselor Renee Haj.

Twelve-year-old Gunner pops wheelies up and down the paved walkway at Camp Arrah Wanna in Welches, speeding ahead, then circling back.

'Yah, click it or ticket!' yells nine-year-old Michelle Pardo as Renee, her counselor, pushes her ahead. Michelle makes high-pitched siren sounds. Gunner doesn't listen. He continues using the wheelchair like a bike-his arms effortlessly doing all the work.

Ninety-six campers with varying levels of mobility spent last week at Camp Arrah Wanna during the Muscular Dystrophy Association's annual summer camp.

Michelle Pardo will be a fifth grader at Clackamas Elementary School in Estacada this fall. This is her third summer at camp. She likes swimming and playing putt putt golf, but for her, the camp's biggest attraction is the boys.

'I try to spy on somebody . . . a boy I like,' Michelle says. 'I'll tell you one thing, his scooter has flames. We've got a lot of loves going around, isn't that right, Ms. Renee?'

Renee is a junior at Jesuit High school. One of her educational requirements is to spend 65 hours doing community service. 'This is what I wanted to do,' she said. Each camper is paired up with one counselor who provides round-the-clock care.

This is Renee's first year at MDA camp. 'I'm helping her out, showing her the ropes,' Michelle says.

Campers spent the week swimming, creating arts and crafts, dancing during a prom, and watching a magic show. They also enjoyed guest appearances by local firefighters (some volunteered the entire week as counselors), Harley-Davidson bikers, the Rose City Astronomers, and the Oregon Robotics Tournament Outreach Program-a group that builds robots out of Legos.

'Many MDA campers call their week at summer camp the best week of the year, including Christmas,' said Jessica Pollack, Portland Regional Public Affairs coordinator. 'It allows them to form friendships that last a lifetime. It also allows parents who have one, or often more, children with a neuromuscular disease respite from care giving and a chance to spend time with their other children who don't have the disease.'

All campers, age 6 to 21, attend camp free of charge. The MDA covers the $600 cost through sponsors, including Albertsons, the Harley-Davidson Motor Company, the International Association of Fire Fighters, the Kiwanis, Rotary Club and Lowe's Home Improvement.

For more information about the MDA, log onto, or call the Portland office, 971-244-1290.