This is the story of Mike, and how he helps national children’s charity, Over The Wall, by volunteering at their summer camps for seriously ill children. Founded in 1999 by Hollywood legend, Paul Newman, the charity provides free residential camps for children but is reliant on volunteers like Mike to make sure each and every camp runs smoothly.
Since retiring, 65-year-old Paediatrician, Mike Miller has volunteered at many of Over The Wall’s camps. He had heard of the charity through his work then met a member of the volunteer recruitment team in 2013 at a regional paediatric meeting. The mixture of emotional support and physical activities were inspiring. Thinking of the future, being an active helper at camp seemed like fun and would allow Mike to continue to contribute to children’s care.
‘I remember thinking camp sounded fantastic,’ says Mike, ‘so I asked one of the Over The Wall nurses, “am I too old to volunteer?” To which she replied, “of course not – providing you are relatively fit, can interact with children and you enjoy having fun – you’ll love it”‘.
‘And of course, I did.’
After his first experience of a week-long health camp in 2015, Mike signed up the following year for two more camps. This year he has registered to volunteer at three – Midlands Health Challenge Camp, South Family Camp and a Children’s Heart Fund Surgery Camp.
‘There is a great deal of positive energy at camp, and you have a constant feeling that you are doing something so valuable, which is why I find myself volunteering more and more each year.’ Adds Mike. ‘Volunteering with Over The Wall also works very well with retired life. For example, I have volunteered for other charities in the past, and often they require long term commitments, and so you find yourself signing up for regular days, but with Over The Wall it’s a short burst of time, so you volunteer for just a few days then camp ends.’
Being at camp as an older person
‘Being an older volunteer actually works very well for me. I feel I’m able to bring my life experiences to this role, and it’s also important the children have contact with people from various backgrounds.’ says Mike.
‘Also, at camp, everyone looks after each other which is what makes it so special. So, if my knees start creaking, people are sympathetic. If there are certain activities that are more physical than others, there are always other options. For example, there may be campers that have mobility or strength issues and therefore they’re unable to participate in the more physical activities. These children need to be supported too. The volunteers must mirror the campers needs and therefore it is easy to fit in. I often help with art and crafts – which I’m hopeless at! However, I once built a clay Stonehenge model with a camper and we were both very proud of it. It’s all about getting stuck in and not worrying too much. ’
The magic of camp
‘For me, camp is about feeling young again.’ says Mike. ‘It allows you to see the world through new eyes, which really is quite something. Everyone looks after each other and because of that, anything becomes possible.
‘I always remember being in Sainsbury’s on a dreary Monday morning, straight after volunteering at camp. It was all very quiet and gloomy. I had this huge urge to start singing Over The Wall camp songs to cheer everyone up! I wanted to make everyone smile by bringing the camp spirit to everyone around me, but I didn’t quite have the courage!
‘I volunteer at camp because it feels like anything’s possible. You lose your inhibitions and feel young again. Seeing children with serious illnesses overcome their health challenges and have fun, is a very inspiring thing to witness. Seeing how they cope and actually helping them to be as independent as they can be, feels like a gift.’
To find out more about how you can help go to www.otw.org.uk/ or call 02392 477110.