Since 2011, The Outdoor Campus has partnered with Sanford Children’s Hospital in Sioux Falls, bringing programs to children who can’t visit us here in Sertoma Park. We alternate Fridays with South Dakota State Parks doing similar programs. The programs are different from much of what we do at The Outdoor Campus because they are usually one-on-one, as many of the kids can’t leave their beds or can’t be around other patients.
And honestly, it’s a different experience all-together. On campus, kids are ready to have fun and run around. Leading a class is as much about corralling excitement as it is about creating it. The kids at The Outdoor Campus are just being kids.
But the kids at Sanford have to be patients, too. Walking into a room is tough, because you don’t know what to expect. You don’t know how much pain a kid is in or whether their condition will affect how the visit runs. Sometimes they’re sleeping, they just got food or they don’t want to partake in a program.
The mission of The Outdoor Campus is “to provide education about outdoor skills, wildlife, conservation and management practices of South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks to all ages in order to preserve our outdoor heritage.” We strive to do that. But it’s clear when we walk in to some of these hospital rooms, the mission statement is a little shorter.
To provide a distraction for them in order to try making them smile.
And when they aren’t too tired and they don’t think they’re too old, we’re pretty good at that mission. The kids do light up for the stimulation of learning about different kinds of fish or how a beaver uses its teeth. The younger kids enjoy the craft and even the older kids can get into it sometimes. For some of them it is a distraction from pain, but in a lot of cases it is simply a distraction from the monotony of the hospital. It’s not always patients, either. We’ve done programs for siblings who are waiting for a brother or sister to get well.
And if that short visit also manages to distract the parents, that’s a win. If it makes the kid more interested in the South Dakota outdoors or learning about us gives them a place to go when they visit Sioux Falls for treatment, that’s fantastic too.
But at the end of the day, we do it for the smiles of some brave kids who really deserve to smile.