Meet One Heartland

I was introduced to One Heartland (then Camp Heartland) through a workplace volunteer program. Once a year, we would pile into a coach bus and travel to Milwaukee on a Saturday morning. Once we arrived, we staged a day-long carnival for the camp participants. During one of those visits, a camp counselor (shoutout to “Even Steven!”) suggested that I apply for a summer staff position. I took him up on the offer, and history was made.

My summer at Camp Heartland was impactful for a number of reasons. I have a chronic medical condition that required daily pills, so I felt at home in Club Meds with my campers. And I had just lost my father to an unexpected death about a month before I started at camp. So, it was a place of emotional healing as well. But it was also a place full of laughter, songs and spelling my name with my butt. I also cherish my camp name: Diva (short for Diva Dogg). 🙂

Today, I donated $50 to One Heartland’s Annual Fund, as a part of a personal giving initiative for the Lenten season. (Read about it here.) In addition to giving to a different organization each week, I am highlighting that organization via an interview on my blog. So please take a moment to get acquainted with One Heartland through their Executive Director, Patrick Kindler:

How did One Heartland begin?

One Heartland, formerly known as Camp Heartland , began in 1993 by then 22-year-old Neil Willenson after befriending a family in Mequon , Wisc. living with AIDS.  Nile , then 5-years-old had contracted HIV through his mother and both were struggling with not only the heavy burden of the illness and medication but also of the isolation they were facing in their community.  Neil spent time with the family, helping to alleviate some of the weight of it all.

Nile told Neil that he really wanted to attend a summer camp; to play soccer, to make friends, to be a kid.  Neil called camps across the country.  No camp would take Nile due to his AIDS status.  Neil decided to gather his friends, they raised $60,000 through their personal networks, and put on the first week of Camp Heartland for 72 campers infected or affected by HIV/AIDS.  Many campers were very sick and couldn’t take part in many of the camp activities but all agreed, it was the best week of their year, or even their life.

After that first week of Camp Heartland , parents called immediately wondering when the next session would take place.  Now, in 2011, we provide six weeks of camping programs to HIV-impacted children, youth and families, reach out to thousands of individuals with messages of hope, compassion and AIDS awareness, and have begun to serve other populations facing social isolation similar to that of HIV/AIDS.

What is one of One Heartland’s greatest achievements to date?

Every year, despite the economy and other financial setbacks, we have not only continued to serve our campers who have been coming to Camp Heartland on average for six years, but we grow our programs and services to new HIV/AIDS-impacted clients and other socially isolated populations.  We’ve had to make cuts and sacrifice but we’ve continued to keep our programs intact for those who need them the most.

What’s one of the funniest experiences you’ve had since working with One Heartland?

Our former Facility Director had this huge stuffed plush bear at Camp.  Every day, he’d use it to scare me or other camp staff!  I once found it in my shower as I was getting up at 6am in the morning.  I screamed so loud I probably woke up the entire camp!!  Steve, the Director, and Boris, the bear, were infamous for scaring the daylights out of me, all of the counselors and even the campers!  It was pretty hilarious and I’ll remember it forever.

Is there a current program or initiative that you would like to highlight at this time?

Right now the entire One Heartland staff is focusing on reaching our final goal of raising $60,000 by the end of our fiscal year (March 31, 2011) as we need to have a balanced budget and good financial standings to continue to provide life-changing programs this summer and for years to come. This is our most important initiative at the moment to ensure camp will be the best it can be!

What are some ways that the following groups can get involved with One Heartland: college students, families, religious groups (church, temple, mosque, etc.)?

One Heartland relies on the kindness and generosity of individuals to provide our camping programs.  We have many opportunities to get involved!

  • Donate! Every dollar helps to fund our camping and care programs for kids and families facing social isolation.  Make a personal donation or host a Party For Our Cause and invite your friends to support One Heartland alongside you!
  • Volunteer as a Camp Counselor ! Our summer camps in Minnesota , California and New York are staffed entirely by individuals willing to donate their time and talents for the cause.  All of our volunteer apps can be found at  Volunteer for a week at a time or the whole summer!
  • Do a service project! Make red ribbons or birthday cards for our campers or come to the One Heartland Center in Willow River , Minnesota and take part in a service project to help improve our facility.
  • Host a Journey of Hope AIDS Awareness Presentation! One Heartland provides an opportunity for our campers who want to speak out about their HIV/AIDS status publicly through the Journey of Hope.  Bring the Journey of Hope to your college, high school, workplace, church or synagogue and help spread our messages of compassion, prevention and awareness of life with HIV/AIDS!  Email for more information.

Anything else you’d like people to know?

Thanks for everything!  Your support and the support of others like you have allowed us to grow over the past 18 years into the largest camping and care program of our kind.