My name is Sheldon Starkenburg, otherwise known as Ramona’s Dad. Our daughter, Ramona, was born with a chromosome 8 deletion, a very rare form of genetic abnormality. Ramona was only four pounds when she was born, and it was discovered very quickly that she would have to have heart surgery. After she had corrective heart surgery when she was a year and 9 months, we thought she was now on her way to “normal.” It wasn’t until a year after that we found Ramona had this genetic abnormality, and we realized that Ramona would not be the little girl her mother and I imagined. But as Ramona has grown up—she is now a 23-year-old young lady—she has brought so much joy to our lives, and we can’t imagine her any other way than who God created her to be: loving, joyful, gregarious, and usually, a little silly young lady.
When Ramona was about eight years old, her older sister Regina started going to Bible camp and TTT camp, and Ramona started asking, “When is it my turn to go to camp?” About that time Ramona’s mom, Pamela, heard about Camp Sunnyside through a special needs parent support group. She started making phone calls and doing interviews and finally it was possible for Ramona to go to Camp Sunnyside. As the weekend got close, Ramona started having second thoughts, until we had to finally say, “Let’s go look at Camp Sunnyside, and if you don’t want to stay, you can come back home with us.”
When we arrived at camp everything was so unfamiliar, but then Ramona spotted a friend from school, and she told us, “You can go home now.” Ever since then, Camp Sunnyside has been one of the most important parts of Ramona’s life.
Ramona loves attending the Respite weekends, especially the spring formal weekend, and the Monster Mash Halloween weekend. She loves the interaction that she finds when she comes here. Her favorite camps, however, are the resident week-long summer camps, or as she calls it, “the foreign camps,” because so many of the staff are from other countries.
She loves her staff! She loves their accents, she loves the attention that they give to her. Of course, she enjoys the swimming and the campfires and the crafts, but Ramona’s favorite thing about summer camp is the staff. In fact, Ramona’s sister started a Facebook group named “I Love Ramona Starkenburg,” and Ramona has friends from around the world in her Facebook group. When she can’t go to camp, Ramona likes to go to the computer and keep in touch with her camp counselors on Facebook.
It has meant so much to us that Ramona has camp in her life. There are a lot of areas in which Ramona cannot participate, but camp is a place where Ramona can just be herself and receive the care and support she needs, while at the same time being challenged to try new activities like climbing the rock wall or flying down a zip line. When we drop Ramona off we don’t have to worry that she’s not getting the care she needs, and so we can use that time to get caught up on other aspects of our lives. When I pick Ramona up after a camp session, she is a tired but happy young lady. When we bring her to Camp Sunnyside, we know that Ramona is having the time of her life, in a safe and caring environment. That is worth so much to us.
I know Easter Seals Iowa and Camp Sunnyside could not happen without a lot of support from a lot of caring people, and I just want to express my gratitude for all those who have given to make this place possible. It has made a world of difference, not just to our daughter Ramona, but to thousands of people with special needs, who would have a more difficult time without Camp Sunnyside and Easter Seals Iowa. Thank you!