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True Friends seeking camp workers to help save summer

True Friends seeking camp workers to help save summer
True Friends seeking camp workers to help save summer 04:03

MAPLE LAKE, Minn. -- It may not feel like it, but we are two-and-a-half months away from summer camp season.

But there is a well-loved local camp that will likely have to turn hundreds of campers away this year. Though there is one way to save summer. 

Summer comes in with a bang at Camp True Friends. Thousands of kids and adults spend their summers immersed in fun at this Maple Lake campground.

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"True Friends really is an organization that provides vacations for people with disabilities," John LeBlanc said.

LeBlanc heads up the camp. He fell in love with the place after his son came here and found fun and freedom.

"I think for Mike and many of our campers their first time, it's their first time away from home," LeBlanc said. "It's a step towards independence."

Independence is what was taken away from Kari Nesje in one fell swoop.

"I came down with a virus, it was streptococcal pneumonia," she said. "And then I also got sepsis from it, and this was just kind of the end result from it, with the limb loss and everything. I spent about five, six months in the hospital before I finally came home."

The sepsis led to severe burns. She also lost much of her skin, but none of her will,

"My family, my mom. Just them always being there, supporting me. It's not in me to quit, or to give up, and just keep moving," Nesje said.

Keep moving and keep laughing, as seen on her accessible vehicle decal, which reads "Look no hands."

She's been taking that zest and resilience to Camp True Friends for the past few years.

"It don't matter. Anybody can go out on the inner tube, go tubing on the pontoon, go out on the pontoon boat, go down the zipline, get up and ride the horse. If they sign up for horses, they got a way to get you on the horse," Nesje said.

The camp is now in trouble.

"The caregiving world is as bad as it's been. So we are struggling to hire our summer camp staff for this summer," LeBlanc said. "We need to hire about 50 more summer camp staff ... We literally every year lately are turning down hundreds of campers, campers who look forward to this every year, campers who don't have opportunities other places to have these experiences ... It's heartbreaking."

Unlike other camps, their campers don't become counselors. That, coupled with the PCA shortage, means they need to hire people to be trained as caregivers. They also need maintenance, office and food staff, too.

"I say it's the toughest job they'll ever love," LeBlanc said. "And their lives will be changed if they choose to dedicate a summer working at one of our True Friends locations."

The hope is more people will lean in so they can continue to lift more campers up.

"Coming up here made me feel like I was normal again, like there was nothing I couldn't participate in," Nesje said. "I could do all the activities, I could go out on the trails. So it's an amazing place up here."

The magic number is 50. If you would like to apply for one of those spots Camp True Friends is hiring people ages 16 and up in four different area locations. Click here for more information.

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