Hole in the Wall Camps are the world’s largest family of camps for children with serious illnesses and life-threatening conditions. Nearly 100,000 children from 40 states and 31 countries have attended free of charge. Hole in the Wall is a not-for-profit organization totally supported by charitable contributions. Hole in the Wall Camps are the dream of the late Phi Kappa Tau Hall of Fame member Paul Newman, Ohio ’43, who started the first camp in 1988 and has been the driving force ever since.
Each year, several chapters put on marquis philanthropy events. Bradley University’s Haunted House is a staple in Peoria, Ill., allowing community members the fright of the season every Halloween and routinely generating over $10,000 per year for the Hole in the Wall Camps. Every fall, the undergraduates work for nearly a month to convert their chapter house into the scariest place in town, and Gamma Mu should be commended for donating over $100,000 since Phi Kappa Tau began its partnership with the Hole in the Wall Camps.
Northern Kentucky and Youngstown gain wonderful exposure for the Camps and help raise not only money but awareness through their celebrity basketball tournaments. Delta Rho conducts one of largest and most successful car shows in the area each spring on Eastern Kentucky’s campus. Gamma Omicron brings hundreds of alumni and guests to its annual Monte Carlo Night at Cal State-Fullerton. Not to be outdone, chapters at Chapman, Arizona and others conduct successful Texas Hold ‘Em Tournaments. From Alpha Tau’s Phi Tug at Cornell to St Cloud’s Freeze-a-Thon, there is no end to the creativity of the chapters in conducting philanthropy events. Money and awareness are the end goals, but the byproduct is a positive learning experience for students in event planning, budgeting, public relations, and organization.
The ultimate service experience Phi Taus can have is truly being part of the Hole in the Wall Camp experience. Whether working full time throughout the summer as a unit leader, activity specialist or cabin counselor or volunteering for a week or Family Weekend, lives are changed. Undergraduates who work or volunteer at a camp are offered a $250 travel stipend to help cover their expenses to get to and from camp. In return, they are asked to write a letter detailing their experiences and what they learned as a result of being at camp. Dozens of these letters arrive throughout the summer and this year, Joseph Uvanni, Murray State ’05, captured the mystique as well as anyone could. He shared in his letter after working the summer at Camp Boggy Creek:
“My kids were sick. Some were in the last days of their lives, some grasping for every opportunity to live another day. Others growing past their illnesses, were recovering. Still there are those who don’t even know they are sick. I played with cancer kids, HIV kids, kids that had heart transplants, kids that had half a brain. I loved kids that had severe asthma, and held kids that were so weak they could never hold someone the same way. I empowered kids to teach others, and I grew when they grew. I nourished the homesick, and I encouraged the scared. I watched as kids encouraged each other, and cried when no one was around… I don’t know what lies ahead of me…but I know one thing is for sure. If it were not for Phi Kappa Tau and Camp Boggy Creek, I would be a much different person, and I think the person that I have become is one of character. Indeed. Joe’s words are not unique. Everyone who spends time at camp realizes that no only has he helped change the lives of some very special children, he has changed his own. Nothing builds character more than to sing crazy songs, give piggy back rides until you can’t move, squirt water guns at unsuspecting campers, holding a hand with a child performing solo on stage, holding a fish for a kid to kiss and returning it home to the lake, or holding hands during a campfire song. Being a part of the Hole in the Wall Camp magic is a profound eye-opening experience unique to Phi Kappa Tau. As the Camps expand, so will opportunities to volunteer. It will not take long for Phi Tau to achieve another goal: to be the number one source of male volunteers.”