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Happy campers and counselors at MDA
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Braden Leitner, 6, shows off his explosive fist bump with a Georgetown City firefighter before lunch. He was one of the 14 to go to MDA camp this year at the New Ebenezer Retreat Center. - photo by Photo by Calli Arnold

Just before lunchtime Wednesday, Caitlyn Fleming’s 6-year-old smile lit up as she picked up her team’s last ribbon from underneath an oak tree and placed it in a plastic bag held open by her new friend for the day, seven-year-old Madelyn White.

The team had just finished the Muscular Dystrophy Association Summer Camp VIP Day “Amazing Race”— a micro version of the scavenger reality show. The teams roamed the New Ebenezer Retreat Center searching for ribbons near flags from different countries posted on trees, answering questions about the nations.

This year at the five-day MDA camp the theme has been “The Real World,” and the staff comprised activities for campers based on reality TV shows. There were 14 campers and 17 counselors from all over the Low Country and Coastal Empire participating in camp. At MDA camp, children with neuromuscular diseases are able to play games and go swimming like any other camp but with the extra attention and care they need.

Caitlyn, a first time camper from Goose Creek, S.C., said she was having such a good time swimming and fishing and was ready for the talent show.

“I’m going to sing ‘Life is a Highway’ from the movie “Cars,’” said Fleming, with a hot pink nose and black whiskers painted on her face to resemble a cat.

Fire trucks were parked throughout camp from departments all over southeast Georgia and South Carolina and the firefighters spent the day playing all kinds of games with the kids and showing off their life-saving skills. Fire departments play a big part in sending the children to camp with their Fill the Boot campaigns. Their efforts, along with local sponsors such as Walgreen’s, Target and Lowe’s, raised the $800 per child camp cost and sent them their for free.

Richard “Smokey” Dollahan, a Bluffton, S.C. firefighter, has been volunteering as a counselor for 13 years and has brought “as many guys as (he) can” in as counselors as well.

“You kind of build a rapport with all the families and all the campers, just everybody that comes out here. It’s almost if I stop now, what does that say or do,” he said. “This is more of a family reunion than anything.”

Jennifer Merz, executive director of the Charleston chapter of MDA, said that VIP day was a chance to open up camp to all of their local sponsors, local families and the campers’ families for a fun day of showing thanks for all their help.