At the age of 35, Jodi O’Donnell-Ames was a widow due to Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, better known as ALS.
Since losing her husband in 2001, Ames said she created non-profit Hope Loves Company in Pennington to provide resources and a free weekend camp for children who have loved ones dealing with the disease.
“Our mission is to provide educational and emotional support to children and young adults that have had or have someone living with ALS,” she said. “We started with a family fun day and someone said to me this is too short, so it was then suggested that we have a camp to bring together so many people in such a unique way.”
That camp is called Camp HLC and takes place this weekend from May 17 to the 19.
The weekend will include archery, fishing, a ropes course, boating, art, and music at Fairview Lake YMCA Camp in Stillwater Township, according to non-profit officials.
ALS is a fatal and progressive neuromuscular disease that affects 30,000 people in the United States, according to John Hopkins University.
The disease takes a toll on the individual and their families.
The camp is designed to relieve that toll and provide needed support to the children and adults who help their loved one’s cope, according to Ames.
She said the camp helps families support one another, learn and have fun all at the same time.
According to Ames, 40 to 50 children and their families will participate in the overnight camp at the site that is located in Sussex County.
“We are very fortunate to have the support we do. I am so happy with the amount of families we have been able to help,” she said. “I want people who attend this camp to know that they are not alone, that we are here for them. We want them to make connections with people who know what they are going through and formulate new support systems.”
Sarah Cooper of Titusville is a Board of Directors member with Hope Loves Company, who was diagnosed with ALS in November of 2018.
“This organization is fabulous. For someone to have taken a very difficult situation that she went through and create something so positive for our community is just incredibly admirable,” she said. “We are fortunate to have Hope Loves Company as part of the Hopewell Valley and ALS community.”
Cooper said she had been made aware of the disease through Ames.
“I was aware of ALS through a personal and professional relationship with Jodi. Jodi was the first person I called outside of my husband when I was diagnosed,” she said. “With Jodi’s guidance I decided to be a public face to the disease to provide awareness about it. My belief is that knowledge is power.”
Cooper said her ALS diagnosis has affected members of her family.
“This disease is a family disease. I was told by the clinic I went to that it absolutely affects everyone in your family,” she said. “So the compassion HLC gives to young people is just something we should all just be quite blessed for.”
In 2019 Camp HLC will have six other camps in different states across the country.
For more information about upcoming camps, visit www.hopelovescompany.org or call 609-730-1144.