Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Something to think about....

These are two of my favorite quotes from Melissa Fay Greene's book...they have been running through my head over and over this past week....

"So how does it happen that----while most people instinctively try to save themselves and their families from a catastrophe----a few slow down, look back, and suddenly reach out to stragers? Instead of fleeing in the opposite direction, a few wade into the rising waters to try to yank the drowning onto higher land".....

"----just as there is no blood test to identify who will jump into the fray---there is no simple biographical arc either. No Resume can predict why this man or woman, at a safe remove from crisis, suddenly announces,'this is my fight.' "

This weekend we had a wonderful family that we met through temple, over for dinner, Neil and Adria Willenson and their two gorgeous children. Neil is the founder of Camp Heartland, which is a national non-profit organization dedicated to improving the lives of children, youth and their families facing HIV/AIDS, poverty, grief and other significant life challenges.

The thing that struck me was , Neil was a 22 year old college student when he started this camp.

Here is his story...(this is from their website Camp Heartland.org )

In 1991, Neil Willenson, a native of Mequon, Wisconsin, was 20 years old and a senior at the University of Wisconsin- Madison. He was majoring in TV/Film and, upon graduation, had plans to seek a career as a feature film producer in Hollywood. All that changed, however, when Neil read the headline in his hometown newspaper: "AIDS hysteria in Mequon." A young boy with AIDS named Nile Sandeen was entering kindergarten in the small town of Mequon, and the community was up in arms. Fear and prejudice filled the air. At the center of all this controversy was a five-year-old boy who only wanted to go to school, who only wanted a chance to make friends.

When Neil read this story in his hometown paper, he knew he had to get involved. For the next two years, Neil got to know Nile. He got to know Nile's brother, Sean, and his mother, Dawn Wolff; an entire family affected by AIDS in the center of America's heartland. Neil compared his own life-history in Mequon to Nile's. On the sidewalks, streets and in the schools of Mequon, where Neil had found joy and friendship, Nile had found only isolation and despair. Fear, ignorance and prejudice had turned what had been a heartland for Neil Willenson into a wasteland for Nile Sandeen.

In 1993, Nile turned seven years old. Like millions of other children, more than anything, he wanted to go to summer camp. He wanted to run; to play in the sun with kids his own age. He wanted to sit around a campfire at the end of a day filled with fun activities and sing silly summer camp songs in the dancing firelight - to eat breakfast in a dining hall ringing with joy and activities.

And so in 1993, inspired by Nile Sandeen, Neil Willenson founded Camp Heartland - a summer camp program that accepted both children infected with AIDS and children who were affected by the disease. The camp was equipped with state-of-the-art medical facilities able to handle the special needs of immuno-compromised campers. It was a summer camping program where children living with HIV/AIDS could step out of the shadows of secrecy into the light of openness and honesty - a place where they could have the best week of their lives.


Neil, at a safe remove from crisis, instead of fleaing in the opposite direction, jumped into the fray, and pronounced that this was his fight...

I have been so inspired by Neil... he has given me a lot to think about....

No comments: