Success Stories: Hole in the Wall Gang Camp

Paul Newman would be proud—and very happy—to see how his idea for a camp in Ashford for kids with serious illnesses has flourished and continued to grow.

 

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Canton recalls one spellbinding moment.

“We had a young girl here with brain cancer and because of an operation she could not tolerate loud noises,” he says. “For most of the week, she had to sit outside the dining hall or other venues because of the noise.”

Canton explained the situation to the other campers and asked that instead of applauding or shouting when she got her award they just hold their hands in the air.

“Then she was led inside,” he says. “Not only was it completely silent, but the arms were up in the air waving wildly. All you could hear was her wheelchair moving along the mezzanine and you saw all these hands in the air shaking wildly. She just burst out laughing at the sight. We try to convey to campers that the rest of the world needs that sort of spirit and that this place can exist anywhere in the world, not just in the northeast corner of Connecticut.”

While the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp gears up for anniversary events in the coming year, one person missing is Paul Newman, who died in 2008.

“Paul was a big presence here,” says Canton. “He came once or twice a session. He rejoiced as the founder but he also did not want to miss out on all the fun, which could be maddening for me as the camp director because he was always pushing the envelope.”

Canton recalls the time Newman pulled a lily pad out of Pearson’s Pond and used it as a hat decoration. “He was called out for that later in the dining hall,” Canton says. “He had to shake his bushy tail in front of the other campers in recompense.”

Another time, Newman snuck a flag into camp that he wanted to hoist to the top of the tree house. “I was horrified because it was a skull-and-crossbones flag, the universal symbol for poison,” says Canton. “I said to Paul, ‘Uh, you might want to think about putting a bandana on the skull or something’. He was quiet for a few seconds and then said, ‘Okay, I just thought about it . . . Let’s hoist the flag!’”

Just months before he died, Newman visited the camp with board chair Ray Lamontagne, to whom he said, “They said we were crazy and look what we’ve accomplished.”

“Paul was totally into the kids ‘raising a little hell’,” says Canton. “But he hadn’t realized about the transformations that could take place in the kids themselves. I think that really surprised him.”
 

Success Stories: Hole in the Wall Gang Camp

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