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Helping to Build Camp Brigadoon

Have you ever considered what “happy camper” really means?

A few years back, when I was working at the Medical Post (a weekly doctors’ newspaper), I wrote an article about summer camps for children with chronic illnesses and disabilities. A camp doctor I interviewed told me a story about a camper he knew, a boy who’d lost a leg to osteosarcoma. This boy was determined to water-ski on his one remaining leg. Every day he tried and every day he fell down, face first, into the cold lake. On his last day at camp he was the last skier in his group. The doctor was riding in the motorboat as the boy had one final chance to water-ski. Against all odds, this boy found the strength, balance and coordination he needed to zip around the lake on one ski. Back at the dock, the doctor and boy celebrated together. Indeed, they were both happy campers that day.

Camp can have a profound effect on people. Particularly on young people who are often otherwise limited – or even defined – by illness or disability. At special needs camps all the kids have medical conditions so they’re considered normal. Here, they are just kids, not patients. Having seizures, taking medicine, following a special diet, or going for chemotherapy or dialysis are no big deal. While on many non-camp days their lives might revolve around doctors’ appointments and examination rooms, at camp kids also get the opportunity to play outdoors, make friends and have fun. And to anyone who’s participated or even visited such a camp the effects are obvious: Within mere hours, children become more independent, energetic and stronger than they were when they arrived. Epidemiological studies have proven depression, anxiety and self-esteem improve, as do physical markers like weight changes, stronger muscles and improvements in pulmonary function for children with cystic fibrosis. “Healthy campers” is a side benefit to “happy campers.”

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My Magazine Love Affair

For me, a great magazine is one I can’t wait to open and pore through lovingly, page by page. The editor feels like my best friend, the art direction leaves me breathless, the advice is practical, and the messages are memorable. A great magazine might make me want to plan a trip, cook a new dish, volunteer at a local charity, run a marathon or race to the nearest fashion outlet. A truly outstanding issue is one I keep long after the month in which it was published – and I am a dedicated and proud purger of anything nonessential.

I am privileged to work in the magazine industry as a freelance writer. For the most part, this means I work alone from my home office and aside from the occasional in-person interview or meeting, I do all my research over the phone or on the computer. The flexibility and freedom to write about topics that interest me is wonderful. The isolation? Not so wonderful.

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How to Write Winning Opinion-Editorial Articles

When I was asked to deliver a guest lecture to public relations students about op-ed writing I immediately agreed. I love teaching and find the students energize me. Preparing to teach also forces me to examine my work processes and bulk up my knowledge on a subject, contributing to my overall understanding and appreciation of the communications craft.  

To augment my own experience writing and editing op-eds, I sought help from the experts, editors I know and admire professionally and personally, and a friend who writes a weekly opinion column for our local newspaper. What they said made a lot of sense, and I’ve synthesized their insights into a Top 10 list:
Ten 10 tips for writing op-eds that get published:

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The pizza days

‘Salad days,’ is a phrase Shakespeare coined in 1606 when he wrote Anthony and Cleopatra to describe a time, “When I was green in judgment, cold in blood.” They are thought to be a time of youth, innocence and inexperience.

Having children, I realize, has pushed me beyond my salad days officially onto life’s main course. I am now living my pizza days, both figuratively and literally. I’m no longer naïve and I’m eating lots of pizza.

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