In 2010, when Chad and Suzie Heimbigner signed their son, Nick, up for his first week at Camp STIX (Support, Tradition, Information, Xcitement), a camp for children with diabetes, they were concerned about the big step of not being with him, and entrusting his health to others.
“It’s a big leap of faith, as a parent in charge of care 24/7, so going to camp, we were worried,” says Chad.
To help with the transition, Chad decided to reach out to find what volunteer opportunites were available at camp, agreeing that Nick would have his camp experience, and Chad would be there, but not by Nick’s side. “I said, ‘Put me where I can serve,’” he says. The camp was short on male counselors for the week so they asked him to fill that role. “I thought ow hard can it be?”
At age 38, he was quite a bit older than the other counselors, who were 18-20 years old, but there is something about summer camp that makes us all feel like kids at heart, and this week was no exception for Chad. “Instantly, I fell in love with camp,” he says of his first week there, seven years ago. “There is a special spirit to it and I knew I had to be there more.”
Not only did Chad see something special in the camp, but they saw something special in him. When it was time for the camp to select a new program director, their eyes fell on Chad.
“I didn’t know exactly what it entailed,” he says of the position, in which he just finished his sixth summer as the program director. “That first week, I was with the kids 24/7 so I didn’t get a feel for the operatons and how much time it took.”
Though the campers get to experiene once glorious week of camp per year, Chad soon discovered the program director, along with the team that makes camp happen, is working year round to bring this one-week a summer camp to life. “That first year, I probably put in 700 to 800 hours, trying to get my arms around camp,” he says. “It was like drinking out of a firehose. We’d had such an increidble former director, and I didn’t want to mess it up. I’d only had one week of experieincce and I din’t want to ruin what had been built up in the good foundation they had for me.”
What had been built up was “an independent, community-based, summer camp located in Northeastern Washington for children and teens with diabetes throughout the Northwest. The camp is held at Riverview Bible Camp, on the Pend Oreille River near Cusick, Washington. Camp STIX offers a one-week program for youth ages 8-18.” That is the website’s succinct definintion of what Camp STIX is, but for those who attend it, it can simply be summed up as “lifechanging.” This is a camp that allows chidlren and teens with diabetes the chance to experience summer camp in a way not otherwise possible for them.
“Without Camp STIX, a lot of kids wouldn’t be able to have that camp experience,” says Chad. “Being able to have a safe environment where they can go, but still have that care, is a unique environment.”
The care he mentions includes 70 volunteers on the camp medical team, who are skilled experts in diabetic medical care. Volunteers include endocronoligists, nurse practiioners, nurses and medical students. “They work really hard to take care of these kids,” says Chad. “They teach the things about diabetes care in a really cool way.”
Guest speakers share about their expereinces, and help kids realize others with diabetes have been successful and have not been held back by this disease. One favorite recent guest was Gonzaga University basketball fan favorite, Adam Morrison. “It’s giving kids the ability to go home having gained confidence,” says Chad of the impact the diabetes portion of the camp has on the campers.
The emphasis of Camp STIX, however, is not diabetes; rather, the emphasis is on a fun summer camp where kids get to experience classic camp adventures like arts and crafts, swimming, the STIX Got Talent talent show, a camp dance, and of course, campfires.
Every camper and staff member gets a camp name, and Chad’s name is Calamity. It’s an interesting choice for someone who has not been, as the name would indicate, a disaster or distress. Just the opposite, under Calamity’s leadership as program director, Camp STIX has grown. Even as those words are typed, you can guess the next words out of Chad’s mouth would be in protest, declaring that it is the entire team, and not just him, who deserve the credit for the camp’s success. Well, there is enough success to go around: Camp STIX has outgrown its original home at Camp Bear Paw, where there was a program staff of 40, and a camper load of around 100. Fast forward seven years later, and Camp STIX is now housed at the larger Riverview Bible Camp, with 109 program staff and just shy of 200 campers.
There is also now an Arts & Crafts director, and a Creative Media director, to capture and showcase the creative and personalized reasons campers and staff alike love Camp STIX.
This year saw the second season of Camp TWIGS (Together We Inspire Greatness & Support), which is a mini week, day camp for children ages 6 to 8, who have been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. This offers younger children who may be prone to homesickness, a way to experience the camp at a younger age, in a comfortable day camp setting, before they advance to an overnight weeklong camp program.
Other projects are on Chad’s mind as he looks to the future of Camp STIX. In the future though, his role will be different. After seven great summers, and six fabulous years as the program director, Chad is getting ready to pass the reins to someone else. “My next step I want to focus on is being a camper advocate,” he says. “Spending time with the camper who needs extra attention whether because they are homesick or just need one-on-one mentioring. That is what I am most passionate about is working with our campers. I’ve always strongly believed volunteers can get as much out of camp as campers.”
“It is a magical place,” says Chad of Camp STIX. “It is hard to describe it to someone. As passionate as I am about it, I can talk about it, but you can’t feel how amazing it is. After seven years, I still have a moment each day when I am amazed at how magical it is there. When the week is over and you look back, it makes the year round work worth it.”
There are so many great non profits, and so many great causes, so how do you decide which charity events you will attend or which causes you will support?
I tend to support organizations that benefit kids or families in our community.
What do you consider your greatest accomplishment other than your family?
The positive impact that I have hopefully made on the lives of kids and young adults that I’ve worked with as a coach or as the Program Director of Camp STIX.
What is the most important contribution you’ve made to Spokane over the last 10 years?
As a Principal Engineer at Coffman Engineers, I’ve had the opportunity to work on awesome projects throughout the United States, but some of the most rewarding projects have been low-income housing developments in our community. I’m extremely proud of these projects because everyone deserves to have a safe and nice place to live – these housing projects can be life changing.
What qualities do you look for in a friend?
Honesty, a sense of humor, and a kind heart.
Aside from your family, what is your most treasured possession?
Our cat Lucy – coolest cat ever.
With all the activities you juggle, how do you handle the stress that might come with it? What keeps you grounded and focused?
I try to not get too stressed or worry about things. I always try to maintain a positive attitude and outlook on life. When things are crazy, going for a run always helps me feel better and clear my mind. My family keeps me grounded and focused, especially my wife Suzie with the incredible advice she provides me.
Do you have a cherished family tradition?
When the boys were born, we made it a priority to always spend Christmas morning together at home … just the four of us. We have loved this tradition over the years. We try to keep it pretty simple and just enjoy the time spent together.
What are your favorite places to travel, and leisure activities in which to participate?
I absolutely love Maui and going snorkeling. Whenever we travel anywhere, we really enjoy trying new restaurants.
What is your favorite for each of the following?
Book: I really enjoyed The Boys in the Boat and I love books by Jess Walters, especially Beautiful Ruins and The Financial Lives of the Poets.
Movie: I really like watching movies … too many to choose from. I always enjoy crime movies, especially ones with suspense and a good twist.
TV Show: Seinfeld and Lost are a couple of my all-time favorites.
Who do you really admire?
I admire leaders that focus primarily on the growth and well-being of the organization and people they serve. We have some incredible servant leaders in our community and I’ve been lucky to work and volunteer with some of them.
Where do you see yourself 10 years from now? Future goals?
Still working at Coffman Engineers (but a bit closer to retirement), volunteering my time for at least a couple local organizations, and really excited to witness the cool things my sons are doing and where their paths have taken them.
What is one thing you have to do every day?
Coffee … even better if that first coffee is on my front porch, a beach somewhere, or a dock on Lake Pend Oreille.
What is, hands down, your favorite food or meal?
Probably pizza with tacos a close second.
Any hidden talents, or fun trivia facts about you?
I can make this obnoxiously loud siren noise (it’s kind of freakish).
Describe your perfect day.
Waking up without an alarm clock, drinking coffee with a pastry, strolling down to the beach, going snorkeling, spending time with my family, eating dinner at a nice restaurant with a glass of red wine, then watching the sun set.
What are some local organizations whose causes you support, either by attending an event for them, or you are just a fan of their cause?
Camp STIX (my absolute favorite), SNAP, River City Youth Ops, Big Brothers Big Sisters, 2nd Harvest, Catholic Charities
What is the best advice you have been given?
My 6th grade teacher told me that it takes more muscles to frown than smile. I’m not sure if that’s scientifically proven, but I try to always share a smile with everyone. Smiling is my favorite.
For what are you most grateful?
Definitely my family and friends. I am very blessed.
What is your favorite place you have travelled to?
I love Maui. I also really enjoy Palm Springs, San Diego, and Whistler.
What is your dream vacation?
Any place with a beach, warm water, snorkeling, and great food. Suzie and I also look forward to travelling around Europe someday.