Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) Schweitzer Fellow and second-year medical student at UT Southwestern, Jamie Pfaff discovered the need for her project through a volunteer experience with Camp John Marc (CJM), an organization which provides subsidized, high-quality camping programs for children, teens, and families living with chronic medical and physical challenges.
“CJM is a special place, inspiring confidence for life while creating a joyful and healing atmosphere for hundreds of children each year,” Pfaff says. “Their emphasis on inclusion has made it an attractive organization to support.”
Upon learning that Camp Jubilee, CJM’s camp for children and teens with sickle cell disease, was struggling to maintain necessary support and volunteers, Pfaff was determined to give back to an organization that played a large role in her own desire to serve others.
According to Pfaff, “Jubilee is one week that struggles to find support due to the nature of sickle cell disease as a chronic, life threatening illness that lacks media attention. The scope of knowledge and interest about the disease is limited, making financial and personnel support harder to attain than for some other camps.”
Led by Pfaff, the teens who attended Camp Jubilee this summer will continue to meet monthly to grow the leadership skills they learned this summer. She has partnered with the Children’s Medical Center of Dallas’s Gill Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders through Dr. Mary Lazarus and Dr. Tim McCavit to make the meetings possible. Later in the year, the teens will make visits to local college campuses to recruit volunteers for the 2016 camp and take on community education about sickle cell disease.
To kick off the program, Pfaff held special sessions during camp with the teens, built into their usual camp schedule. During the week, the campers discussed qualities that make good leaders and ways that they can help younger campers participate in special camp activities like a theme night, cookout mentoring, and a spa night where the oldest and youngest girls were partnered to talk, paint their nails, and dance.
By the close of the week, these teens graduated from Camp Jubilee armed with a better understanding of what it means to be a leader and how they can be leaders within their own community, especially through returning to camp as counselors in the future.
Pfaff’s goal is multifaceted, aiming not just to help the teens in her program, but also to help Camp Jubilee thrive. She hopes to help the teens participating in her program grow as leaders and feel empowered to speak about how sickle cell disease has impacted their lives, eventually becoming advocates for their community. Finally, Pfaff aims to improve their ability to transition to adult healthcare, developing the skills and knowledge they need to successfully move through a critical point in the management of their disease.
Through the teens participating in her program, she also aims to help Camp Jubilee grow by increasing the pool of volunteers available to serve as camp counselors. Ultimately, Pfaff hopes that through helping the campers develop their leadership skills, she can help them find a sense of ownership in the Camp Jubilee community, eventually returning to camp as counselors, and bring the spirit of camp into their schools and everyday lives.
The week at Camp Jubilee was an important step in the process, both for the campers and for Pfaff. “It was inspiring to watch these campers take one small step toward community engagement by spending a week working to help them understand they have a voice,” she said.
For Pfaff, service and a desire to make a difference in the lives of others lies at the heart of why she chose to pursue medicine. As a member of the first class of Schweitzer Fellows in DFW, Pfaff has used the Fellowship as an opportunity to bring service into her medical training, while working with an organization that is close to her heart.
“I am grateful that ASF encourages me and other graduate students to pursue futures as a compassionate and engaged citizens that strive to enhance healing, and hope in the DFW community.”