Ethan Millerick is a student at Turlock Junior High School who has undergone five open heart surgeries in his 12 short years. It’s for students like Ethan that the Turlock Unified School District Board of Trustees unanimously voted to make Feb. 12 TUSD Heart Day.
Every day thousands of students attend TUSD schools where they sit side by side in the classroom often not knowing what their peers are experiencing outside the confines of their campus. While Ethan is the only student he knows of at TJHS with a heart condition, statistics show he is not alone, as congenital heart disease is the number one birth defect that affects 40,000 infants a year.
Ethan has not had to face his struggles alone since he found solace in Camp Taylor, a non-profit organization that provides the ultimate camp experience for children with heart disease.
“Camp is important to me because it is where I don’t feel alone,” said Ethan. “I am not the only person there that has a heart condition. It’s also good because there are other people who know what I am going through.”
Known for their partnership with Turlock native Colin Kaepernick of San Francisco 49ers fame, whose own family has lost two children from heart disease, Camp Taylor announced a new partnership with TUSD at the school board meeting Tuesday night.
“We’re really excited to be working with Turlock Unified School District,” said Executive Director and Founder of Camp Taylor Kimberlie Gamino. “This program that we’re doing is a brand new fundraiser for us and our goal is to help 30 more children this coming summer and that takes $24,000.”
The fundraiser, Camp Taylor Kaep’s Campers Coin Drive, allows students in the District to collect change for prizes based on their efforts. Coin canisters will be placed in classrooms and students can win a “Kaepernick 7 Camp Taylor” bracelet for collecting $5 or a Kaepernick Camp Taylor T-shirt with the collection of $30. For every $30 student donation that a child raises, he or she will be entered into a drawing where a student from each school will win a chance to meet Kaepernick himself. There will also be a drawing at the school level, which will allow five adults from all of the schools to have a chance to meet Kaepernick.
While the prizes are exciting, the true aim is to provide local children the opportunity to make friends and have fun in an in environment where their heart condition does not divide them from other children, but rather unites them. Camp Taylor offers camps for children, teens, families, as well as a leadership camp.
“What Ethan is really saying is that he’s not shy to shed his shirt at the swimming pool. Everybody has scars. He’s the norm there. He is not the minority. And that’s really why camp is so important for these kids,” said Gamino.
Camp Taylor is also running Kids for Kaep’s Heart Warriors program which aims to increase awareness about congenital heart disease and encourage involvement through school assemblies with nine out of 15 TUSD schools participating thus far.
The Camp Taylor Kaep’s Campers Coin Drive fundraiser will begin Jan. 29 and culminate on TUSD Heart Day Feb. 12, at which point the children who raised enough funds will wear their T-shirts and wrist bands to school to show solidarity and increase awareness of heart disease.
Those seeking more information on Camp Taylor can access www.kidsheartcamp.org .