Local kids affected by juvenile arthritis get relief with a summer camp designed just for them 

Summer means camp, and camp equals swimming, fishing and laughing with friends. That's the goal of Camp J.A.M., which stands for "Juvenile Arthritis and Me," a program enabling kids and teens with arthritis to enjoy summer activities, enhance their coping strategies and make lifelong friends.

The five-day camp, which starts July 26, will be held at the Central Christian Camp and Conference Center in Guthrie. This is the 17th year for the Oklahoma chapter of the Arthritis Foundation to conduct the event.

"We are on pace to have 40 (campers)," said Sherri O'Neil, executive director and vice president of the Oklahoma chapter. "(That) is double what we had last year. We can have 80 kids."

In Oklahoma, there are 3,500 children aged 16 and younger who have been diagnosed with arthritis. With more than 15 types of juvenile arthritis, family schedules often revolve around medication routines, physical therapy and doctor appointments.

Since medications are expensive and routines are stringent, some families cannot send their child to camp. However, Camp J.A.M. is free to any medically diagnosed child in-state and is medically staffed.

This year will be the fourth year to attend for Dakota, 11, who likes to fish and participate in the talent show by singing and dancing. His mother, Amy Fields, said his medications cost $1,500 per month and gives the camp an outstanding review.

Although she was reluctant that first year to be separated from Dakota, O'Neil's encouragement confirmed Field's belief that he was in good hands.

"I don't let him go to any other camp," she said. "It allows him to be around other kids that have the same pain. They can help comfort each other."

Camp J.A.M. helps kids learn to deal with a chronic illness and gives them a support system. Regular activities include swimming, canoeing, a talent show, cooking and arts and crafts. The only difference, O'Neil said, is the administration of medications. Often, it is the first time for kids to be away from home; the camp gives them responsibility for pacing themselves during activities, taking their medications on time and gaining a better understanding of their own disease.

"(Camp J.A.M.) is the best thing the Arthritis Foundation does," she said. "It is rewarding."
Juvenile arthritis affects the growth and development of the joints. There is no cure, and each child is affected differently.

Camp J.A.M. is funded by the United Way, grants and support from foundations and the community.

"For 17 years, we haven't had to charge a child to come," O'Neil said, "and we'll continue on with that."

The organization accepts donations for supplies, or $250 to sponsor a camper. For more information, call 936-3366 or visit www.arthritis.org. "Gina A. Dabney

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