Volunteer works around his chemo to make summer fun for campers

Volunteer Ian Anderson of Union township, left, wipes jelly off the hand of camper Hannah Murphy of Hartwell.

Volunteer Ian Anderson of Union township, left, wipes jelly off the hand of camper Hannah Murphy of Hartwell.
A young camper bursts into smile as volunteer Ian Anderson appears.

The camper pats Anderson on his T-shirt in greeting. Anderson winces, then grins.

“That’s where my port is,” he says.

Anderson, who just turned 18, is in his sixth round of chemotherapy and the chemo port is just under the name-tag part of his Camp Stepping Stones T-shirt.

“Some of the kids like to pat my name,” Anderson says.

“I’m glad they’re happy to see me. They don’t know there’ a port under there.”

A lot of people don’t know. Anderson says his chemotherapy is just something he has to deal with right now. Every camper in Stepping Stones Day Camp has something to deal with. The summer camp serves children, teens and young adults who have disabilities ranging from cerebral palsy and Down syndrome to seizure disorders, autism and intellectual disabilities. A little discomfort from chemotherapy is no big deal in comparison with that, says Anderson, of Union Township.

He started volunteering at Stepping Stones, in Indian Hill, last summer. When he was diagnosed in December with a rare condition similar to leukemia, he started chemotherapy treatments that sap his energy for a few days after each treatment. The treatments also magnify the effects of the sun, forcing him to minimize the time he spends outdoors. “I’m kind of a vampire in the summer,” Anderson says.

He attends school online to meet his chemo scheduling and energy needs, but there are some things a guy has to do in person. One is Tae Kwon Do lessons, the other is volunteering at Stepping Stones.

“This is where my heart is,” Anderson said about Stepping Stones.

“I like to work with the kids. I figure out what they like and I go home and study that so we can talk about it. It makes it more fun for them,” he said. “This is camp. It’s supposed to be fun.”

When a camper said he liked Michael Jackson, Anderson, a fellow fan, learned every song on the Essential Michael Jackson album.

Another camper is an Elvis Presley fan. “I went on I-tunes and bought one of Elvis Presley’s songs and I practiced it.” Anderson launches into a throaty chorus of “Hunka hunka burning love.”

“My Tae Kwon Do master says if someone has a disability, the trick is to work around it,” Anderson said. “I find a loop hole and go in through there. With one camper the loophole is holding his hand at all times and giving him a hug. That helps him relax and feel more calm.”

Last week a teen camper didn’t want to move into the gym during a tornado drill. His face was set and his feet were planted in the hall. As others urged the teen to move into the gym, Anderson held out his hand and launched into a sotto voce version of Michael Jackson’s “Blood on the Floor” – just loud enough for the teen to hear. Anderson added some dance steps and the camper cracked a smile, took Anderson’s hand and headed into the gym.

“Ian is an incredible teenager. He wholeheartedly gives his time and energy,” says Stepping Stones Volunteer Coordinator Sarah Woeber. She adjusts Anderson’s volunteer schedule to meet his chemo needs. “We’re all about flexibility,” she says.

Anderson’s mother, Aimee Anderson, isn’t surprised that volunteering resonates with her son.

“He’s always had a big heart for people who have less than he does, whether it’s money or friends or ability,” says his mother. “When someone needs a friend you can rely on Ian being there.”

Anderson hopes to qualify for his first-degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do in August at the Eastgate Martial Arts Club. The martial arts program dovetails with volunteering, he says.

“My tae Kwon Do master says the trick is to dedicate your whole self to what you do,” Anderson said. “I don’t have to volunteer, I want to be here. It’s not because of service hours or money, but because it’s the right thing to do.”

Anderson heads toward a group of campers where he is scheduled to help with a craft project.

“You never know what might happen,” Anderson said. “You might make a friend. It might make a difference for the rest of your life.”

Stepping Stones is a United Way partner agency serving people with disabilities at program sites in Indian Hill and Batavia. Volunteers are needed for summer camp, which runs through Aug. 9, and for Saturday Kids Club, which starts in the fall. For information on volunteering, contact Sarah Woeber, (513) 965-5110 or the web site www.steppingstonesohio.org.