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The Painted Turtle

A Life-Enhancing Summer Experience for Children with Transfusion-Dependent thalassemia
By Ben Meisel, MD, FAAP -- Medical Director, the Painted Turtle

The Painted Turtle is a 173-acre camp and family-care center in Lake Hughes, California. The organization was founded in 1999 and opened its gates in 2004. It is a member of the Association of Hole in the Wall Camps founded by actor Paul Newman. The camps are considered to be the finest multi-disease medical camps and family-care centers in the world and to date have served more than 100,000 seriously ill children. Each camp is responsible for its own fundraising and has its own board of directors. In 2006, the Painted Turtle was accredited by the American Camp Association.

Each year, in collaboration with the 16 nonprofit children’s hospitals in California (our Founding Partner Hospitals), the Painted Turtle offers a six-day camp experience for children who have transfusion-dependent thalassemia, usually in early July. Campers must be 7 to 16 years old to attend.

Scheduled program activities include:

The Painted Turtle’s mission is to provide a year-round, life-changing environment and authentic camp experience for children with chronic and life-threatening illnesses. The Painted Turtle supports children’s medical needs, inspires them to reach beyond their illnesses, and provides care, education, and respite for their families. The main goal of the Painted Turtle is to ensure that campers have a fun, safe, and empowering experience. This overarching goal contains several expected outcomes which include the following:

All campers and families attend camp free of charge. This is a fundamental doctrine of all Hole in the Wall Camps.

All recreational programs and the facilities are universally accessible to campers with disabilities and are used year-round. There are 12 cabins, with beds for 120 summer campers. During family sessions, the cabins can accommodate approximately 25 families of various sizes. The Painted Turtle welcomes children from all ethnic, racial, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Almost 90 percent of campers and families are from California. All camp sessions are illness-specific. Children served during summer camp are between the ages of 7 and 16 years old, and those served during family camp weekends are 6 to 17 years old with the following conditions:

  1. Rheumatic disease
  2. Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis
  3. Diabetes
  4. Hemophilia
  5. Kidney disease
  6. Liver transplant
  7. Muscular dystrophy
  8. Prader-Willi syndrome
  9. Primary immunodeficiency diseases
  10. Severe asthma
  11. Skeletal dysplasia (dwarfism)
  12. Spina bifida
  13. Thalassemia
  14. von Willebrand's disease

To date, the Painted Turtle has served almost 5,500 campers and family members. Recently, the Painted Turtle welcomed 2,125 campers and family members, which is more than four times the number of people who were served during its first year of operation in 2004. The Painted Turtle hosts eight summer sessions, ten family weekends, two day camps, and one young adult leadership weekend.

“It’s the coolest place ever where you are not afraid to make a fool of yourself…and have a great time and be understood.”
—-Painted Turtle camper

To learn more about any of our many different camp sessions, please go to our web site, www.thepaintedturtle.org, or contact us by phone at (661) 724-1768, x 202.

See also: Interview with camp attendee, Olivia Stahl


Northern California Comprehensive Thalassemia Center
UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital Oakland
747 52nd Street, Oakland CA 94609   •   Phone: (510) 428-3651   •   Fax: (510) 450-5647
© 2003-2012 Children's Hospital & Research Center Oakland
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