At Camp Arroyo, in Livermore, they are changing the lives of children.
"I was born positive and I'll be celebrating my 25th birthday in January. My health is great. I'm happy in life," 24-year-old Sherla tells ABC7.
"I take my medicine, I live longer. If I don't take my medicine, my chance of living longer is very slim," 18-year-old Early says. "So, why not increase your chance of winning?"
Dillon, a counselor-in-training, says he loves camp. "I love it a lot. It's like my family."
The young former campers are thriving in spite of living with the AIDS virus and working with other children with AIDS and their siblings at summer camp.
Sherla is a counselor. Early and Dillon are counselors in training. They are reuniting with two dynamic women in Northern California who made great personal sacrifices to create a safe place for children with AIDS to enjoy summer.
Elaine Taylor and her husband Barry started the Taylor Family Foundation in Livermore with a very modest event.
"All we did was have a fundraiser in our front yard. I never thought we'd be here, but I'm glad we're here," Elaine says.
Geri Brooks founded Camp Sunburst in Petaluma for children with AIDS in the late 80s. It was a terrible time of fear and lack of awareness.
"Parents were really frightened to even let their children know that they were positive or let the children know that they themselves were positive, because they were afraid they wouldn't be accepted into the schools," she says.
The children they help enjoy a week of free summer camp at Camp Arroyo in Livermore. It was Elaine's dream. She had been raising money in the late 80s for outings and special care for children with AIDS at Oakland Children's Hospital.
Geri Brooks was paying out of her own pocket to provide summer camp, but very few locations would allow her to bring the kids because of the fear of AIDS and the stigma. Geri told me back in 1989, that I was the first TV reporter on the West Coast to hold a child with AIDS. Elaine and her husband, Barry Taylor, met Geri as a result of my stories on Camp Sunburst on ABC7.
"It was a miracle when you brought Elaine Taylor to us," Geri told me. "She was a woman in the community who was really interested and really cared about knowing more about children with AIDS."
"We took on the mission of building a camp for kids with AIDS and we built a 150-bed facility," Elaine says.
The Taylor Family Foundation built Camp Arroyo in Livermore 10 years ago for kids with the AIDS virus, but their commitment to children's health and happiness started more than 20 years ago. They are celebrating two decades of helping children. Fewer kids are being diagnosed with AIDS, so, their need for camp has declined. Now, children with other life-threatening illnesses or disabilities are now invited to Camp Arroyo along with their families.
"We do two brain tumor camps, two heart camps, we have sickle cell anemia, two asthma camps, five autism camps," Elaine explained. "Over 40,000 children and 70,000 siblings and parents."
Camp Arroyo means a respite for everyone affected by a child's illness.
"Whether it gives a child who's coming to camp a respite, the sibling who comes and there's a program for them with other siblings where they can talk about what's going on, or it gives the parents a little bit of free time to just have a break," Elaine says.
For Brooks, it's the reward for a lifetime of hard work.
"To see my kids, because of improved medications, see them becoming young adults and see them coming back to camp to become counselors, it's really, really wonderful," she says.
For Sherla, camp has become her lifetime commitment.
"I love all the counselors, staff, children everyone here. They really are my family and this is one of the most important things in my life," she says.
I hope you can join me at the Taylor Family Foundation's 20th anniversary fundraiser this Sunday at 11:30 at the camp site in Livermore. There will be live and silent auctions. For more information, visit www.ttff.org.
Camp Arroyo Wish List:
- Sno-Cone Machine
- Paint Brushes
- Paint and paint buckets
- Glue (liquid/Stick)
- Sidewalk chalk
- Ink pads
- Puff Balls
- Pipe Cleaners
- Horse Helmets, 3 for $50
- Lanyard Supplies
- Flash Lights for Goodie Bags
- Swim Pool Toys/ Floatables
- Horse Helmets
- Art Supplies-paper, crayons, markers, butcher paper
- Friendship Bracelet materials –string, beads
- Organic Gardening Supplies-plantings, seeds, tools
- Field Games Equipment-kickballs, cones, soccer nets
- Ping Pong Balls & Paddles