Children of those affected by ALS get a free week of Camp HLC at Flat Rock River YMCA

Thirty-five children and teens from across the Midwest—more than 20 from Indiana, many siblings—who have had or have loved ones battling ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, a.ka. Lou Gehrig’s Disease), are attending the third Camp HLC at Flat Rock River YMCA June 16-23 for free.

Hope Loves Company, with the help of supporters like Flat Rock River YMCA, the ALS Association, the Wes Shealey Foundation, Rising Sun Lions Club and Live Like Lou enables the kids to enjoy the free camp experience.

Camp HLC
Photo from hopelovescompany.org

Emotional, Educational Support for Kids

Hope Loves Company is a 501 (c)3 non- profit dedicated to providing emotional and educational support to children and young adults who have had or have family members affected by ALS. HLC is the only non-profit with this specific mission. Jodi O’Donnell-Ames, President of Hope Loves Company, founded HLC after realizing the lack of resources available for children of people affected by ALS.

Mrs. O’Donnell-Ames has three children- now all adults – who have lost a parent to ALS before turning 12, so she knew from personal experience how ALS affects a family, especially children.

Camp HLC Growing in Indiana

“Flat Rock River has been extremely supportive and nurturing to the Hope Loves Company children and we look forward to working together to grow our program and resources in Indiana,” explains O’Donnell-Ames, who lost her husband Kevin to ALS in 2001. He was 36 years old. She founded Hope Loves Company in his memory and to bring support to children caregivers.

The number of campers has grown from 23 kids in 2017 at Flat Rock River YMCA.

The Hometown Connection That Brought Camp HLC to Flat Rock

For three years, Camp HLC has been a haven at Flat Rock River YMCA Camp for children with similar experiences to come and enjoy a week of summer activities outdoors. Camp HLC wouldn’t have come to the Midwest, however, without a little help from the Zoellner family of Fishers. Stacey Zoellner’s husband, Richie Zoellner, was diagnosed with ALS in 2013 when their daughter Kelsey was one. A diagnosis like ALS takes a toll on an individual as well as their family. With a young daughter, Stacey saw the need for Kelsey and other children dealing with ALS in their lives to attend camp and just be a kid with others who understood. An employee of LIDS Sports Group, Stacey saw the perfect opportunity to partner with LIDS Foundation. Her work and their generous donation brought Camp HLC to Indiana.

Helping Circles, Camaraderie, Fun at Camp

Camp HLC is a fun camp experience which also includes helping circles to provide time for sharing and support. For many children, attending a week-long camp is not within their means. For even more, meeting another child whose life has been affected by ALS is unheard of. At Camp HLC, all of the children in attendance are providing love and support to someone battling ALS or they have watched someone they love pass away from the disease.  Camp brings these amazing children together in a safe and nurturing environment.

Hope and Healing After Loss 

Last year, at the age of 50, Richie, unfortunately, lost his battle with ALS. Camp HLC, however, still remains an important piece of the family’s story with Kelsey, now six, attending again this year. At such a young age, it can be hard to understand a disease such as ALS or how to move on after the loss of a parent. The shared experiences among campers at Camp HLC provide the support and understanding needed from peers that kids such as Kelsey cannot get anywhere else.

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Media contacts: Christy Glesing, sr. director of PR, YMCA of Greater Indianapolis | Jodi O’Donnell-Ames, president, Hope Loves Company