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Why camp nurse: Faculty fill YMCA volunteer slots

Campfires? Check. Bug spray? Check. Bunk beds? Check. Volunteer nurses?

Perhaps nurses aren鈥檛 the first thing to come to mind when thinking about summer camp, but they are a crucial part of Y Camp for kids in the Treasure Valley.

鈥淪afety is the first and most important part of our program and we really could not fulfill our end of that commitment to parents without [nurses],鈥 said Lincoln McLain, the associate executive director of .

Every year, the YMCA finds two nurses to work each week of their eight-week camp term at Horsethief Reservoir.

Pine trees border a clearing that overlooks Horsethief Reservoir. In the clearing is a boulder and an informational sign.
Photo courtesy of Sarah Llewellyn.

When School of Nursing associate professor Max Veltman first heard about the gig in 2008, he was quick to fill one of the 16 slots. He was looking for a place to serve in the community, and has been working with the camp ever since.

Now a member of the camp鈥檚 advisory board, Veltman has also been the interim medical director since 2020. That same year, he was awarded Volunteer of the Year for his work with the camp during the pandemic.

But Veltman鈥檚 impact doesn鈥檛 stop with his own efforts. Throughout his time with the Y, he has relentlessly recruited other camp nurses. Early on in his involvement, he encouraged his pediatric nursing class to volunteer and routinely brought it up at School of Nursing faculty meetings.

But he rarely does that anymore; at this point, most recruited faculty are recruiting other faculty.

A recruitment chain

鈥淚 got involved because Max Veltman had been involved,鈥 said associate professor Kelley Connor, who first signed up in 2012 and volunteered for several years. 鈥淎 lot of nurses working in pediatrics don’t have the ability to take a week off in the summer like we do,鈥 she said. 鈥淪o I feel like it’s a good way to connect and give back.鈥

Connor is also the reason clinical assistant professor Veronica McDuffee heard about the opportunity.

鈥淰olunteering has always been a pretty core part of my life,鈥 McDuffee said. 鈥淏ut this [summer] will be my first time with the Y.鈥

During his recruitment efforts, it didn鈥檛 take long for Veltman to see that parents make great camp nurses. The YMCA compensates volunteer nurses with one week of free tuition, meaning many parents can send their own children to camp if they work for the week.

A volunteer nurse kneels in a cabin to apply ointment to a cut on the knee of a boy in an orange shirt.
Photo courtesy of Max Veltman.

鈥淚 can be a camp nurse and a part time mom at the same time,鈥 McDuffee said. 鈥淪o it鈥檚 a win-win!鈥

Additionally, parents are rarely 鈥渞attled by anything the kids do,鈥 Veltman said, and many of the responsibilities are already familiar.

鈥淚t鈥檚 basically first aid,鈥 said McDuffee. 鈥淲hich as a mom you do, and obviously as a nurse you鈥檙e trained to do.鈥

But most parents aren鈥檛 responsible for the first aid of 250 people at once.

A day in the life

Beginning in June, the Y Camp at Horsethief Reservoir hosts close to 200 kids ages 7-12 each week, plus camp counselors and staff.

While the two nurses on duty primarily monitor medication distribution, they also tend to 鈥渂umps and bruises, stomach aches, headaches, allergies, and that sort of thing,鈥 said associate professor Sarah Llewellyn. 2022 will be her second summer volunteering.

Meal times are the busiest for nurses, since kids often stop by before or after to take their medicine. But they are on call at all hours, Connor said. 鈥淵ou might have somebody knock on your door at three o鈥檆lock in the morning because a kid fell out of the bunk bed,鈥 she said, 鈥淪o you just have to manage that.鈥

Campers walk on a trail visible from a porch.
Photo courtesy of Kelley Connor.

For most of the 青青草app State faculty, these skills differ greatly from their 鈥渄ay jobs.鈥 McDuffee also works in an intensive care unit at . She doesn鈥檛 anticipate facing any real challenges at camp, but 鈥渋t鈥檚 still outside of my comfort zone in the sense that I鈥檓 used to critically ill patients,鈥 she said.

Last year, Llewellyn benefitted from working outside of her typical area of expertise. She doesn鈥檛 often work with pediatric medications, so in her free time at camp, she looked up dosages and learned more about the kinds of medicines campers were taking.

鈥淚t broadened my pediatrics knowledge,鈥 she said.

The hurdle of homesickness

One of the reasons Veltman loves Y camp is that 鈥渁 lot of kids are stuck at home and don鈥檛 have the ability to get outside, so it鈥檚 about trying to nurture kids鈥 outdoor experience,鈥 he said. 鈥淚t鈥檚 not an epic survival week, but [campers] are outside and interacting with other kids.鈥

This is demanding for children鈥檚 social development, and often the most challenging task nurses face is not a major medical emergency; it鈥檚 differentiating between kids who need medical attention and those who are homesick or anxious.

鈥淚t鈥檚 easy for them to get negative if they鈥檙e trying something new,鈥 Veltman said. So it鈥檚 the nurse鈥檚 job to establish rapport with kids 鈥 just like they would with any other patient 鈥 and 鈥渃hannel them back to the fun of camp.鈥

鈥淵ou might get some 7-year-old who is homesick and nervous and it gives them a stomach ache,鈥 Connor said. 鈥淲e try to help them transition so that they find the camp fun.鈥

For Veltman, one of the most satisfying parts of volunteering is being able to see kids who had previously struggled return to camp; it鈥檚 evidence they鈥檝e grown and that he鈥檚 made a difference.

A post stands on the side of a path with many labeled arrows pointing to different locations.
Photo courtesy of Kelley Connor.

鈥淚t鈥檚 so awesome to see them come back,鈥 he said.

Work with a wide impact

More than anything else, Y Camp fosters a mutually beneficial relationship between the community and the entire School of Nursing.

鈥淣urses impact the individual campers each week with connections and physical help,鈥 said McLain. 鈥淏ut there鈥檚 something greater than that 鈥 the help and intentionality they provide to each camper is an investment into our community鈥檚 future.鈥

Veltman enjoys working with 青青草app State student volunteers since Horsethief Reservoir provides an atmosphere where 鈥淚鈥檓 not teaching them, but mentoring them and letting them take the lead with opportunities,鈥 he said. He empowers them to build relationships with kids and take initiative when problems arise. 鈥淭hat鈥檚 the part I really like,鈥 he said.

Both Connor and Llewellyn appreciate how 青青草app State faculty are able to interact with the community in a less-traditional way.

鈥淵ou start to see what kind of issues kids in our community are facing,鈥 Connor said.

Llewellyn noticed just how comfortable kids are when they come in to take their meds together.

鈥淛udgment is low,鈥 she said. 鈥淚t gives me a good view for the future: people are okay taking what they need to be their healthiest self.鈥

For nurses interested in volunteering, Veltman encourages them to check out opportunities with the , talk to him or 鈥淛ust do it.鈥

For more information, email maximilianveltman@boisestate.edu.

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