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Back Row L-R; Griffin Williams, Ryan Kniss, Jillian Sitarez, Sam Malin Front Row L-R: Colin Williams, Rachel Kniss, Josh Sitarez, Caitlin Malin - photo by Suzanne Shaff

Strong sense of family at Camp Knutson’s Down Syndrome Camp

Web posted June 26, 2018
Many of you have heard of the Night Under the Stars fundraiser at Camp Knutson on July 21. This is a major annual fundraiser organized to benefit campers who live with heart disease, autism, chronic skin disorders, HIV/AIDS, Down syndrome, or the effects of living with homelessness.

The Down syndrome camp at Camp K offers a story about family, about living with a challenge that impacts every family member, and about the resilience of spirit that happens when families, friends, and community come together to celebrate life in all its forms.

Caitlin Malin, Camp Knutson Program Director, was a young child herself when little brother Sam was diagnosed with Down syndrome. She wasn’t much older when Sam was in third grade and diagnosed with leukemia. Caitlin knew from that young age, no matter what lay ahead, making Sam’s life full and meaningful would be a lifetime commitment for her. That commitment would lead to a career choice enabling her work with families like hers. Providing families needing a safe, nurturing, and healing environment would be a priority for Caitlin. Josh, Rachael, and Colin all shared a similar experience when they were old enough to know that Down syndrome was part of their family, part of their life. They too were called to serve, and eventually ended up as Counselors at Camp Knutson. Rachael Kniss was going to Camp Knutson as a baby with Mom Angie and Brother Ryan, who had been diagnosed with Down syndrome. Angie Kniss was a founder of the Down Syndrome Foundation in Minnesota so to stay active and be involved with Ryan’s diagnosis, Rachel came along to camp too.

Colin Williams and Josh Sitarez also have siblings with Down syndrome and it was their family experience that also led to their commitment to be part of the Camp Knutson Down syndrome camp. Soon their experience with the Down syndrome camp became a more far reaching commitment to work with all the campers served at Camp Knutson.

All of these remarkable Camp Knutson counselors shared several themes that was unique to them all. One theme, was they were grateful for the life lessons learned from their siblings diagnosed with Down syndrome. They felt their family experience had led them on paths toward service to others. For Caitlin, being part of Camp Knutson is part of a life-time career choice. She knows Brother Sam has been her guide to this special choice. Josh says sister Jillian has been part of his career path that will most likely lead him to a career in medicine. Colin believes brother Griffin gave him the gift of patience and this has made him a better Camp Knutson counselor.

All of these staffers shared a strong sense of family, not just in their families of origin, but in the community they serve. Making Camp Knutson a camping experience that uses all the adaptations imaginable to meet every campers need is a joy to each camper. It is this joy that is a gift to staff and to volunteers.

To help support this service to Camp Knutson campers consider attending the Night Under the Stars fundraiser on July 21. Tickets are available on line at www.campkfriends.com or by calling Sharon Elmquist at 692-1142. Reservations must be made by July 10, 2018. Camp Knutson is a service of Lutheran Social Services.

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