HOPKINTON — The Yawgoog Scout Reservation summer camp is closed for the season, but there is one camp program that has not only enriched lives, but continues to help save them.
Every Friday during the summer, the Rhode Island Blood Center parked its mobile donor coach outside Bucklin Lodge, encouraging campers, leaders and staff to give blood. Prospective donors who were at least 16 years of age and weighed 130 pounds were eligible, with their parents’ permission.
Renelda Maurice-Simmons, account manager at the Rhode Island Blood Center, is the mother of three Boy Scouts, all of whom attended the camp. With many regular donors away during the summer, Simmons thought it would be worthwhile to set up a blood donation program at the camp.
“It’s been a huge bonus for us, because we lose our high schools and colleges in the summer, which makes up 17 percent of our collection, so we really rely heavily on our business community and community organizations to support us with our collections in the summer,” she said.
When the camp closed for the season on Aug. 23, 404 people had donated 356 pints of blood. Among the donors were 167 people who were giving blood for the first time. The blood center's hope is that they will become regular donors.
“They run a camp for eight weeks and they have a thousand different people there every week for eight weeks,” Simmons said. “Where in Rhode Island can you get that kind of a situation happening?”
Camp Director Thomas Sisson organized the first blood drive in 2014.
“I’d always wanted to do some blood drives down at camp,” he said. “I had done some blood drives earlier in my life … so I approached the Rhode Island Blood Center. They had sort of reached out via the grapevine.”
During the first summer, the blood drives were held over a shorter period, but Sisson said it was apparent after the first year that the camp could support a full eight-week season.
“The first year, I think we did three or four weeks and they were quite overwhelmed at the response,” he said.
The blood center’s mobile donor coach parked at the camp from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. every Friday from opening day to closing.
Giving blood, assistant camp director Daniel Friel said, is a logical fit for Scouting’s public service mandate.
“While on the reservation, not only do the Scouts and adult leaders do service projects and are constantly working on ways to be better citizens, better leaders, more active in the community, instilling in them those leadership roles … we have such a high population here on any given week, 850 to 950 Scouts and adult leaders every week, why not give them another opportunity to help others that they don’t even know,” he said. “Every donation saves three lives, so what an awesome opportunity for our Scouts and our adult leaders to give back, right here at Yawgoog.”
Scouts and leaders are rewarded with T-shirts and patches commemorating each year’s blood drive.
“Boy Scouts are really big into collecting patches so every year, we create a different patch so if you donate, you get a Camp Yawgoog patch,” Simmons said.
The blood drive is now one of the many venerated traditions at the camp.
“We have a lot of folks who time their donations so they’re eligible when they come to camp during their week,” Sisson said. “Because I donate every eight weeks, I time mine so I donate during week eight here.”
Friel added, “When they show up at the beginning of the week, you’ll hear countless leaders say to Tom, ‘Still doing the blood drive on Friday, right?’ They can’t wait to sign up. They look forward to it.”