Camp Benedict, held at Camp Knutson near Crosslake, has been providing for the past 11 years a refuge for families living with HIV/AIDS. For one week during the summer, families affected by HIV/AIDS gain valuable information about the disease.
But most important, they are in a safe and supportive environment surrounded by other families who understand what they are going through. For many Minnesota families affected by HIV/AIDS, this is the first time they've ever enjoyed the northwoods atmosphere that camp provides for the entire family. Camp Benedict is sponsored by St. Joseph's Medical Center in Brainerd.
Nicholis Statz, his fiancee, Kate Andrews, and their 3-year-old daughter, Maija, will participate Friday through Sunday in the Minnesota AIDS Trek, a 175-mile volunteer-supported bicycle trek benefiting people affected by HIV/AIDS.
When state health education funding through the Ryan White Act was discontinued this year for Camp Benedict, the camp was in jeopardy of shutting down, said camp director Renee Steffen.
What has saved Camp Benedict is the Minnesota AIDS Trek, a 175-mile, volunteer-supported bicycle trek that benefits people affected by HIV/AIDS. Event organizers named Camp Benedict as one of its three 2005 beneficiaries.
An average of 90 percent of the funds raised by the bike trek goes toward its beneficiaries. Last year 100 percent of the $50,000 raised was donated to the beneficiaries because of corporate sponsorship of the event and careful use of resources.
Steffen said Camp Benedict, planned for Aug. 8-12 at Camp Knutson, will be funded through some private donations but primarily through the Minnesota AIDS Trek, which takes place Aug. 5-7. There are 55 campers from 16 families attending the scholarship-based Camp Benedict this year.
"If I didn't have that funding we wouldn't have been able to have one week (of camp) this year, said Steffen.
Nicholis Statz and his fiancee, Kate Andrews of Pillager, with their 3-year-old daughter, Maija, in tow, plan to participate in the Minnesota AIDS Trek on Friday, cycling 175 miles Friday through Sunday on the Willard Munger State Trail near Hinckley.
How to help
To support Pillager resident Nicholis Statz in the 175-mile Minnesota AIDS Trek Aug. 5-7, make out checks to the Minnesota AIDS Trek, 499 Lynnhurst Ave., St. Paul, MN 55104.
Make sure to specify that the funds are to sponsor Rider No. 106. Statz's goal is to raise $3,000, which will go to support the Emory Vaccine Center to assist in the development of an HIV vaccine; The Top Shelf, which provides new household items to low-income people living with HIV/AIDS; and Camp Benedict, a camp for families living with HIV/AIDS in Crosslake.
Donations are tax deductible. Donation forms are available at Trailblazer Bikes in Brainerd and Nisswa and the Eclectic Cafe in Brainerd.
For more information, visit the ride's Web site, www.aids-trek.org.
Raising funds for Camp Benedict is extremely important for Statz. His mother, Connie Statz, Pillager, was one of the camp's organizers and has attended Camp Benedict each summer. Connie is a 24-year AIDS survivor. She contracted the deadly virus in 1981 from AIDS-tainted blood products she received during surgery in 1981, but she wasn't diagnosed until 1993.
"This is definitely for my mom," said Statz, of the bike trek. "It's something my mom believes in and I believe in. It's just a great thing and I would hate to see (Camp Benedict) not happen."
"This camp is so important for people living with this disease," said Connie Statz. "They come up here and they've never experienced this before. It's a safe place to be and a place to talk about what's going on in our lives without anyone treating us differently."
"It really gives her a chance to feel like she fits in," said Nicholis Statz, of his mom. "She belongs. People say they understand but they don't. My mom feels fortunate for being a long-term survivor and can give advice to people who almost give up hope. There are families that come up from the Cities who have never swam in a lake. It's great."
This year Connie is taking 3-year-old Maija to Camp Benedict for the first time. If there's anyone who gives his mom the most encouragement and support to keep fighting this disease it's Maija, said Nicholis.
"Maija is my mom's main support," he said.
Connie and Jim Statz plan to stay in a camper, hanging out with Nicholis, Kate and Maija at camp each night of the bike trek, along with the other participants.
"My mom's pretty excited about that," said Nicholis.
Maija is accustomed to long bike rides with her dad. He rides his bike about 200 miles a week and competes in Minnesota State Championship Series mountain biking events throughout the state. Maija often rides with in her Burley trailer, often telling her dad to speed up.
"She loves it," said Statz. "She tells me to go faster. 'Faster, daddy.' She said hi to people on the trail."
Statz would like to invite all area residents and families on a group bike ride Thursday starting at the Paul Bunyan Trailhead in Baxter. He'll be at the trailhead at 5 p.m. Thursday and can share information about the Minnesota AIDS Trek. His mom also will be there and can answer any questions people may have about Camp Benedict. She's happy to share her story about living with AIDS. People may donate to the bike trek at this time, but Statz said he wanted to create a fun kick-off event where families can bike together to Nisswa, stop for ice cream, and then bike back. If people can't afford to donate, Statz said it's nice to have them show their support for the Minnesota AIDS Trek and finding an HIV vaccine by biking together.
Statz said they'll leave Brainerd for Nisswa on the group bike ride about 5:45 p.m. Thursday.
JODIE TWEED can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5858.
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