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A camp for children with special health needs focuses on the camper, not the illness

In the mid-1960’s, three University of Virginia pediatricians, Dr. Peter Houck, Dr. Elsa Paulsen and Dr. Robert Selden had a vision: a camp for children with special health needs. One that would provide the fun of the outdoors with the safety of round-the-clock medical supervision. Originally, each physician operated their own camp, and early facilities included local schools, churches and the backyard of a hospital. In 1973, with considerable community support and the gift of 75 acres of land, Camp Holiday Trails, Inc., was founded. The first buildings were built by volunteer hands and in 1974, Camp Holiday Trails became one of the first camps in the country welcoming children with diverse medical diagnoses.

Innovative programming

Camp Holiday Trails makes an impact with innovative programming

  • Teaching independence. At Camp Holiday Trails (CHT), campers learn to better manage their own healthcare.
  • A sense of community. Campers, counselors and medical volunteers develop strong peer groups and lasting connections to CHT.
  • Developing leadership skills. Counselors and volunteers learn to be positive role models and most pursue medical, teaching and social service careers.
  • Improving medical care. Future medical professionals improve their medical skills and learn to celebrate the camper, not the illness.
  • Traditional camping. CHT offers an active year-round program that engages campers in activities such as horseback riding, swimming, canoeing, sports, drama, arts and crafts and a challenge course designed to build self-confidence.
  • Family camp. Extending the fun to the whole family, CHT organizes Family Camps with programs focused on family bonding and support. CHT offers families much-needed respite and camaraderie in our caring community.
  • Blazer Program. A leadership development program for our teen Campers designed to promote service, leadership, environmental awareness, self-reliance, a strong work ethic and an enhanced self-image.


CHT’s annual operating budget is approximately $800,000. On average, 94 percent of campers need financial assistance to attend camp.

Costs and financial aid
Average cost of Camper per 2-week session $2500
Average camper family contribution $125
Total 2016 financial aid awarded $307,830

Campers welcomed to the Camp Holiday Trails community in 2016
Summer campers 242
Family campers 209
Total 2016 campers 451


Camp Holiday Trails has a long history of community collaboration and partnerships. Civic organizations like the Lions Club, the Kiwanis Club and the Rotary Club serve both as volunteers and donors, helping to maintain our facility and fundraise for our camp participants. CHT works with the University of Virginia Department of Medicine, Martha Jefferson Hospital, and children’s hospitals throughout the mid-Atlantic region to get children to camp. CHT also partners with special interest groups in implementing their own camps, including Central Virginia Burn Camp, Virginia Hemophilia Foundation, UVA Ryan While Clinic and many others. Camp Holiday Trails relies on over 600+ volunteers every year.

Read more below about how Camp Holiday Trails works to create a positive and welcoming place for children with special health needs and their families.

CHT The Math 2016

CHT Camp Magic 2016



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