Students meet recipients

by Nichol Nelson

The din was overwhelming as Spring Jam participants crowded into Coffman Union’s Great Hall on Tuesday night. Primarily brightly-clad members of the Greek system, the crowd filled the giant room with cheers that ranged from The Smurfs theme song to the ever-popular “We Got Spirit” chant. There was even an impromptu wave.
But when the evening’s main attractions took the stage, the group’s enthusiastic standing ovation soon gave way to silence.
Four teenagers and a 28-year-old man brought the room to a standstill with their stories of about how a camp for kids with HIV/AIDS has changed their lives.
The event was an effort to expose Spring Jam participants to kids who have been a part of the largest camp in the world for kids with HIV/AIDS — Camp Heartland, the main beneficiary of Spring Jam. All proceeds from the “Sunshine Daze” themed-festivities will benefit the camp, said Andrew Leonard, media coordinator for the event.
Neil Willenson, who founded the camp seven years ago while still in college, had to raise his voice over the chorus of the Minnesota rouser to be heard. He said the reaction was much different from what the group usually encounters while on trips and later told the crowd he was impressed by their enthusiasm.
Jessica Popowitz, a counselor at the camp, agreed the crowd was atypical: “Normally, they sit and watch and cry.”
Willenson shared stories of his seven years with the camp, emphasizing the importance of providing a place for sick kids and their loved ones to spend time with people who were experiencing similar emotions. He emphasized the campers were normal kids, but said the reality of the illness does affect the time counselors spend with the kids.
“When we say, ‘See you next year,’ we know maybe that’s just a wish,” Willenson said.
Campers who want to tell their personal stories about the disease have the option to speak publicly through the camp. The program is called the Journey of Hope and is designed to educate young people, said Julie Walker, director of AIDS education for the camp.
Stephanie Ray, 13, told the packed room she didn’t know what it was like to not have AIDS because she has always had the disease. She read a heartfelt poem about her struggle to cope, but managed to inject a note of humor with a quip about the unappealing taste of her medicine.
This is only the second year that proceeds from Spring Jam have been donated to a charitable cause. Last year, the week-long event raised $8,560 for the camp, said Janet Osherow, director of fund-raising programs for Camp Heartland. She said University proceeds were the camp’s second-largest school fund-raiser in the country.
Leonard said this year’s event is shaping up to be even bigger. Fraternities and residence halls paid $1,250 each to compete in Spring Jam events, such as skit competitions and Ballyhoo. Each entry fee is enough to send a child to Camp Heartland for a week.