86489804Every summer, children arrive in Ashford, Connecticut, ready and eager to enjoy the pleasures camp has to offer. But this is no ordinary camp, and these are no ordinary children. Diagnosed with serious illnesses, including leukemia, cancer, brain tumors or other conditions, these youngsters have come to the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp to get a break from medical treatment and experience life as children. And while they enjoy traditional camp activities, their parents receive respite and relaxation through massage.

Founded in 1988 by actor and philanthropist Paul Newman, the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp offers sick children an opportunity to laugh, play and celebrate childhood. More than 30,000 children from all over the world have enjoyed the weeklong experience, according to Beth Starkin, communications manager. During the summer, children can participate in ziplining, fishing, archery, horseback riding, swimming and other typical camp activities that are adapted to meet physical and medical needs. The Hole In The Wall Gang Camp also features Hero’s Journey, a seven-day wilderness-based program, weekend retreats and a hospital outreach program.

The fun extends to parents during the C.O.P.E. (Change of Pace Experience) weekend when they participate in the same activities as the campers. Parents also have the opportunity to experience massage as a way to alleviate the stress of caring for children with serious illness. Kathy Goodall-Perniciaro, a trauma touch therapist and certified infant massage therapist who owns a massage school in Langhorn, Pennsylvania, is one of a half-dozen massage therapists who bring their chairs and tables to the camp that first weekend in May to provide 30 to 50 parents 15-minute massage sessions.

Starkin said massage reinforces the importance of self-care for the parents. “Parents are the primary caregivers. They are so caught up in meeting their children’s demands that their own needs are pushed to the wayside,” she said. “This is about being the best they can be. It’s one of the tools we give parents.”

Parents can also attend workshops where they learn massage techniques they can use on their children. “When nothing else is working for their child when he is in pain, they can do massage,” Goodall-Perniciaro said. “Parents are compassionate witnesses in the hospital, as medical professionals work with their children, [and] massage is a bonding time and empowers parents to feel they are doing something for their children.”

About the author

Phyllis Hanlon has written nonfiction articles and book reviews as well as human-interest stories, profiles and award-winning essays. Her specialty areas include health and medicine, religion, education and business. She regularly delights in the joys of massage. She has written many articles for MASSAGE Magazine, including “Anti-Aging Treatments: LED, Microcurrent and Infrared Therapy” (May) and “Aromatherapy Education” (August).