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Pay It Forward: Camp Hayden

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A local couple lost their young son to a very rare disease, but they have turned their grieving outward to help others. They are making a huge impact. So KIDK Eyewitness News 3 anchor Todd Kunz wanted to Pay It Forward.

Jason and Kami Chapa loved doing things together as a family with their son Hayden. But Hayden was diagnosed with a very rare condition called microlissencephaly. It is similar to what babies are born with from mothers who have contracted the Zika virus. Hayden also battled other complications because of it. He was only 3-years old when he died in October 2016. In fact, video went viral of Kami singing to him in his final hours in the hospital.

But out of heartbreak, a new purpose is born. Welcome to Camp Hayden.

"He would love it. Just being outdoors and the wind and being around other children. He would love it," said Kami.

"Yeah, it's been a journey for sure. The most spiritual time I've had in my life was right when he passed away. And I think that's right when we realized we were going to do something and the conversation didn't stop right there and it just kept going the entire time. Literally right when we left the hospital, that's all we could talk about was trying to help other people," said Jason.

So they set out to create Camp Hayden, an accessible adventure camp for other children with challenges. A weekend getaway to forget it all, with horse riding, shooting water from a firetruck hose, looking at an ambulance, scavenger hunts and other games, and ATV and golf cart rides.

"Lunchtime!" yelled Jason to the campers as a volunteer rang the dinner bell.

Ten families are at Camp Hayden with 48 people in all. Plus, 24 very important volunteers. 

"Why are you up here on a Saturday volunteering?" asked Kunz to three volunteers while sitting on the porch to the lodge.

"For the Chapas and for the kids and to experience these beautiful mountains we have here," said Lanae Surerus, who is one of the volunteers.

"What do you think about when you see 10 families hosted here and what the Chapas have done with the help of volunteers like yourself and you see these kids arrive and have fun, what do you think?" asked Kunz to another volunteer.

"Oh, I think this is going to be a great experience for these kids. This is just a great thing that they've done. I'm amazed what they've done," said Darlene Wood.

"OK, you've watched the whole process because you're a close friend," said Kunz to another volunteer.

"I am a close friend," said Ashley Bierma.

"And you see what they've brought together and what the outcome is going to be. Your thought?" said Kunz.

"I think it is amazing to see what they are doing. They're putting their heart and soul into this. And I wanted to help make their dream come true. This is what they want. This is Camp Hayden and we are here to make it come alive," said Bierma.

It's time to Pay It Forward. 

"I mean to get this place comfortable for everybody, not just for Camp Hayden, but for the YMCA as well, we had to make sure there was a lot of stuff done. So we basically flipped the entire place and just remodeled a lot of stuff. We did plumbing throughout the entire facility," said Jason.

"Jason, Kami, how are you?" said an approaching man walking down the dirt road from the lodge.

"We're in the middle of a news interview," replied Jason.

"I know. I'm Kory with Mountain America Credit Union," said the man.

"Awesome," said Jason.

"So we've heard about your story and what you're doing up here. And because of that, I'm here to Pay It Forward. You've given so much of your time, your passion, and your love to this community that we're here. So I've brought with me today $500 in cash," said Carling.

"Wow!" said Kami.

"Awesome!" said Jason.

"That I know you guys can use to continue Camp Hayden and touch the lives of so many others. So on behalf of Mountain America Credit Union, we want to Pay It Forward," said Carling.

"Oh my gosh!" said Kami.

"Thank you! We appreciate that," said Jason.

"Thank you so much," said Kami.

"Absolutely," said Carling.

"Thank you," said Kami.

"So continue what you're doing and sharing your love and passion. Awesome job," said Carling.

"Thank you," said Kami.

"That's awesome," said Jason.

"Wow. Oh my gosh. Thank you guys," said Kami.

"Yeah, that's great. Don't start crying now," said Jason, as Kami started wiping tears from her eyes.

"Camp hasn't started yet," said Kunz.

"That's why I have sunglasses on," said Jason.

"Oh wow!" said Kami.

The Chapas have partnered with the YMCA at this Big Elk Creek Campground location. With the help of many sponsors and donors, the two of them have put in nearly 3,000 hours of work in about a year's time. All the extra help has installed more than 600 feet of gas line. They've replumbed the entire main facility and the bath house. They expanded the patio area that leads to a new wheelchair accessible ramp that is almost finished. In fact, the two of them just recently quit their full-time jobs to make Camp Hayden happen. They are looking to expand in the future and team up with the Civitans to possibly include a camp for veterans.

"Pay It Forward" airs the second Wednesday of every month. If you know of a nonprofit organization or someone who deserves to be recognized for their contributions to the area, click on "Pay It Forward" on the right side of our website and fill out the form, or send an email to KIDK Eyewitness News 3 anchor Todd Kunz at tkunz@kidk.com.

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Todd Kunz

Todd Kunz

Todd is an anchor for KIDK Eyewitness News 3.

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