Summer camp: a time for fun, adventure, freedom, and friendships. And for the campers at Double H Ranch (A SeriousFun Camp), this “rite of passage” empowers them and generates lots of joy.
Founded by the late Paul Newman and amusement park entrepreneur and philanthropist Charles R. Wood, Double H offers children living with severe, life-threatening illnesses the opportunity to hang out with their friends and enjoy sports, adventure trips and fine arts. Since 1993, Double H Ranch (named after the gang in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) has seen more than 17,000 kids come through camp; and the family of Hole in the Wall camps “has given over 119,000 children the chance to be a kid again.” Double H, quite simply, is a cool camp with an incredible cause.
In 2006, I interviewed Nancy Miller who coordinates PMC jewelry-making with the staff at Double H. A jeweler and PMC® enthusiast, Nancy volunteered to teach campers how to make PMC jewelry, knowing “it would be a great medium for them to explore, with maximum opportunities for success.” With support from the PMC Guild and Rio Grande (in the form of clay, tools and findings), Nancy and fellow jeweler and friend, Lynn Strolin headed off to camp to introduce kids to PMC.
Nancy was hooked, and so were the kids. “If they got stuck, we offered suggestions for alternate approaches and provided whatever help [they] needed, but we never took over for [them].” Beaming with pride, the campers realized what they just did—something they thought they could never do. “It is gratifying to see [them] go from thinking that they aren’t especially artistic . . . to creating well-made pieces they love,” Nancy says. “It’s so nice to see them making gifts for each other or family members—they’re such a thoughtful group of kids.”
Shelby Chant: Tell me a bit about this year’s summer camp program.
Nancy Miller: Double H had 814 campers this summer! Along with participating in the traditional summer camp program under the close supervision of medical staff and counselors, campers attended scheduled activities in the morning; then in the afternoon, they chose another activity to attend. The programs included Fishing & Boating, Swimming, Arts & Crafts, Discovery (hands-on science), Outdoor Extreme (nature), High Ropes Challenge Course, Archery, Team Adventure (sports and recreation) and an Equestrian program. Within the Arts & Crafts program, campers can participate in many activities, including jewelry making and designing (along with woodworking, pottery, and making musical instruments and tie dye t-shirts).
SC: How did PMC make it into the jewelry-making program?
NM: I had been working with PMC since 2001 and thought it would be a good match for the campers at HH. PMC really lends itself well to a single-day experience with lots of hands-on help and the ability to improvise and individualize the experience for each camper. After getting the approval of the camp Executive Director and the head of the Arts & Crafts Program, I contacted the PMC Guild to see if they could offer any support, which they did. Armed with several packs of PMC and lots of enthusiasm, a friend and I held the first session during the summer of 2004. The following year Rio Grande became a major contributor adding to the supplies from the Guild, and they have been contributing ever since.
I coordinate the summer’s PMC activities with the camp program staff and enlist current and former students to come along as volunteers. It would never succeed without many hands and hearts working together. PMC jewelry-making is typically offered to the older campers, but some are pretty young (and enthusiastic!).
SC: What jewelry items do they make?
NM: Rings, pendants, charms, bracelets, ankle bracelets, key rings—anything they want! I’ve made some molds that have HH themes that are very popular with the campers, but you’d be surprised by the ideas they turn into reality! They work with a half-lump of clay and make several items—for themselves, friends and their families. Sometimes a camper isn’t able to attend the session due to medical problems that morning, so either their friends, a counselor or one of us makes sure that the camper has a piece of custom-made jewelry for him or herself.
NM: I think most of them think I’m out of my mind as I’m describing this strange gray stuff that is a blob wrapped in cellophane that will end up as shiny silver! The campers enjoy the whole process of designing and then creating the piece, but their faces really light up when they return in the afternoon to pick up their beautiful, shiny silver jewelry. The magical process is complete then—all they have to do is add the cord they prefer and wear their jewelry. I think the enthusiasm of all the helpers goes a long way here, too!
They also love to be part of torch firing. I do it as a hand-over-hand experience and use it as a way to encourage them to make a small pair of earrings for Mom or a friend. In one session there were just a couple of us outside when the first camper did his torch firing, but by the time the second camper had his turn, the whole room of campers was out there with us.
NM: Double H is always looking for special guests to volunteer their time and resources to the program. Anyone interested can simply email the volunteer coordinator, Abby Pinney (email@example.com).
Since campers do not pay to attend the camp, Double H also welcomes financial and in-kind donations. There is a list on the Double H Ranch website of items that they are seeking at any given time. In terms of PMC-related tools, some additional cutting templates and cutters would be helpful. Animal/nature/camp related textures would be appreciated as well. We use what I supply and improvise often!
Nancy feels lucky to be able to teach gracious, very special kids how to create using a lump of silver clay. “I’m able to give a bit of myself back to others who can benefit—we all find ways to do it, this is mine,” she says. “They are a great group of kids, spending time in a place that is very special to them, with a fantastic support system. It’s a real pleasure to be a small part of their camp experience.” So every summer, after setting up the program, coordinating volunteers, and packing up the tools in her studio, Nancy goes to camp. “All the work seems to fade into the background when I see the campers enjoying their time making jewelry that is meaningful to them.”
Learn more at the Double H Ranch website.