The camp offers a safe environment where the kids can be themselves.
Dr. Josh Abzug is a pediatric orthopedic surgeon in the University of Maryland Medical System. Over the course of his career working with children who suffer from limb differences or abnormalities, he noticed the emotional toll that growing up with disabilities took on the children and parents. Their hardships inspired him to create a safe space for these children to explore their physical capabilities without the scrutiny of the other “normal” students.
The Baltimore Sun reports that Dr. Abzug organized a collaboration between the University of Maryland Children’s Hospital and the University of Maryland department of orthopedics to create Camp Open Arms in 2014. The camp hosts children with all sorts of limb-altering disabilities. Some of the activities include hiking, sports, and obstacle courses.
The camp also offers a support group that helps kids answer questions about their bodies as well as teaches them how to respond to others who ask them about their disabilities. The children are encouraged to keep in touch after camp, with the hope that these friendships can become another support system.
The children have a lot of fun at Camp Open Arms and each year has seen an increase in campers. Carly Quarengesser, a nurse at University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center and volunteer camp counselor, describes the change in demeanor as a “flipped switch” as the kids realize they are away from the scrutiny of their peers.
Alyssa Rhine, 11, spoke with the Baltimore Sun, about what she took away from Camp Open Arms:
“It’s neat to know I’m not the only one,” she said. “There’s not many people in the world, it seems, with differences, and I think it’s kind of cool to meet some of those people.”