10,000 Miles and Counting

Marcellus fishingMarcellus Garcia was hooked on camp from the very first time he came to The Painted Turtle in 2009 when he was only 8 years old. Ever since, he has come back at every opportunity:  week-long summer sessions, family weekend camps, and even special one-day events like the annual camper Holiday Gathering. So what keeps Marcellus and his family coming back – and driving more than 600 miles each time between camp and their home in San Francisco’s East Bay?

If you ask Marcellus, he’ll say it’s the other kids he meets and the unstoppable energy of his counselors.  His favorite camp activities are archery, the ropes course zip line, woodshop, and just hanging out with his friends. “I’m not the only disabled person here. I’m part of the crowd. I really enjoy it, it’s just fun.”

Marcellus has spina bifida. He uses leg braces and a walker for short distances and a wheelchair for longer distances. He takes medications and has a cecostomy tube and requires urinary catheterization every four hours. These medical advances help him be self-mobile and more self-sufficient, but they also require vigilant awareness and a strict regimen of care.

Garcia Family“Our family stays home more than we would if Marcellus didn’t have spina bifida,” say his parents. All excursions have to be checked for accessibility and proximity to health care in case it is needed.  It’s hard for the family to get away and even harder to think about letting Marcellus go somewhere without them.  But the Garcias know that he’s always safe at The Painted Turtle and that these opportunities to go to camp by himself are life-changing. “He feels alone a lot at school being the only one of 1,500 kids in a wheelchair. His steps at camp toward independence and self-acceptance are really big deals to him and to us.”

The Garcias also enjoy coming to camp with Marcellus for family weekend sessions. They get to meet other parents of children who have spina bifida. “We like to be around people who can identify with our situation and share their own problem-solving skills.” Marcellus’ 17-year old brother Travis gets a lot out of these family camps sessions too, bonding with other siblings who are also caregivers. He’s planning to come back as a volunteer once he’s old enough –and so is Marcellus!

“I cannot explain what The Painted Turtle means to our family. It’s important that we get Marcellus there for every opportunity. We don’t want him to miss a single moment,” say the Garcias.

Marcellus youngMore than 150 of the campers and family members we serve live in Northern California like the Garcias, which is why The Painted Turtle recently held a special Camp on the Move event in San Francisco.  Just like at a regular session at camp, Marcellus and his fellow campers got to reunite, play carnival games, sing and dance, and put on a talent show. More Camp on the Move and other outreach events are planned for this year to keep the camp spirit alive for campers across the state of California.

“Do you know the theme song to the old sitcom Cheers?”, asks Marcellus’ dad.  “It describes The Painted Turtle perfectly. ‘Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came. You wanna be where you can see, our troubles are all the same. You wanna be where everybody knows your name.’”