Calaveras County is celebrating all things dear to the heart this week. Two you may have heard about – Kindness Week officially kicked off Monday and on Thursday sweethearts will embrace over Valentine’s Day dinners – but another heartfelt event might just be being brought to your attention.
Kenny Reed, a Calaveras High School freshman and lifelong resident of Valley Springs, is taking February’s celebration of the heart a little more literally. Reed, who was born with congenital heart disease and has undergone five open heart surgeries, is raising money for a summer camp – Camp Taylor – he has been attending since he was 5-years-old. The California camp is free of charge, held each summer throughout the state and has made recent headlines after being visited by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
According to Reed – who was the program’s youngest attendee at age 5 when the camp first opened 11-years ago – Camp Taylor offers kids the chance to be kids. He described leisurely days in meadows, bocce ball games, horseback riding and archery as only some of the activities available to attending campers.
“This year I’ll be a mentor,” Reed said proudly. “I’ll be paired with a family and help them be comfortable with any questions they might have about their own kid.”
In addition to typical summer camp activities campfire discussions also take place, but with a more somber emotional note.
“We talk about tough questions, you know. Like, are we going to die young,” said Reed.
“It’s a shame that kids even have to have these conversations, these discussions about the longevity of their lives,” said Kenny’s mother Patty.
Judging by Reed’s composure and articulation, it’s clear that such routine discussions have matured him, evidenced by a recent informal support group he started at Calaveras High School after realizing there were other students also dealing with congenital heart disease.
“Kenny is one of those go-getter types of kids who really just wants to pay it forward,” said Calaveras High School Principal Mike Merrill.
“His attitude is ‘I’m going to take a positive stance on this and I’m going to try to help other kids who maybe are not willing to talk about this and don’t want to be different.’”
“I really like it,” said Reed who described the informal meeting of students as a place where kids could feel comfortable “talking about anything.”
“I think it’s been really good for all of us, especially for me. I always felt alone at school and was just really shocked and surprised to learn that there were so many other students like me.”
At the same time, Reed is still a kid, telling anecdotes about his chasing his pig Emeril Lagasse, who Reed described as “a fun guy,” across his yard and talking about potentially being a farmer when he’s done with school.
In the meantime, Reed is volunteering his time to help out the summer camp that has helped him so much.
“We’re doing whatever we can do,” said Patty. “At least we’re helping.”
If you’d like to help Reed’s efforts, let a Mar Val cashier know. Donations can be made in $1 or $5 amounts and all proceeds go directly to Camp Taylor. Those donating can write a name on a small paper heart which will adorn the grocery store’s doors.
Hearts are being sold until Sunday, Feb. 17, and Reed will be manning an informational booth after school on Valentine’s Day to answer any questions the community has regarding congenital heart disease or Camp Taylor.