Volunteering with Angel on My Shoulder is a family affair for Michelle and Jon Perry and their two children. Michelle and Jon serve as bus chaperones/supervisors for both summer and winter Camp Angel, while daughter Alayna is a Camp Counselor and son Reece joins as a camper.
A veteran who works as a commercial heat and frost insulator, Jon is also an avid hunter and fisherman. Michelle is an Educational Sign Language Interpreter for the Milwaukee Public School District.
Alayna is now a Senior at Rufus King in Milwaukee, with a passion for theater she’ll be pursuing in college. Reece is a 5th grader who’s involved in baseball, soccer and who recently went from a Cub Scout to a Boy Scout.
“Once we get to camp, we hit the ground running,” said Michelle. “We both help in whatever is needed to keep camp moving along. I usually meet with Lolly and discuss how the trip has been thus far. We load/unload the bus. Jon is involved with making sure the camps are stocked with everything the kids need. We offer support, take pictures, help facilitate activities and crafts.”
The Perry family first became involved with Angel On My Shoulder when Michelle was sick and undergoing treatment for APL (Leukemia). It’s been a family affair ever since.
“We wanted to be able to pay it forward after I was in remission,” Michelle said. “When Alayna went to camp, we met the bus chaperones that volunteered before us and decided it was an opportunity we would like to know more about. We loved that we could do it as a family.”
Michelle and Jon pack everything needed for the bus on the way to Camp Angel and back. “This means we make sure there are snacks, meals and movies for the ride,” explained Michelle. “We connect with the parents beforehand, reassuring them of the experience (as this may be the first time away from home for some). We make sure they know about pick-up and drop off, what their child should expect while traveling with us, etc.”
Reece is a camper but will most likely become a counselor as he grows older. Alayna is currently a senior counselor and, along with brother Reece, helps with prepping before going to camp and upon their return.
When asked what some of the greatest benefits were of becoming involved with Angel On My Shoulder, Michelle said, “We have lost Jon’s mother, my uncle and several dear friends to cancer. My grandma was also a two time breast cancer survivor with mesothelioma. It has given our family an opportunity to have this time together and share our experiences first hand with others that are dealing with a cancer diagnosis in their family.”
“I like to think we have given other families hope that life can return to “normal” again,” she said. “Knowing firsthand what the children are dealing with gives us a unique perspective and opportunity to connect with them.”
Added Reece, “When we go to camp it takes our minds off of the sadness of our loved ones that are sick. I like that you can have a happy time in your life even though sad things are happening at home.”
According to Alayna, “I used to, and sometimes still, feel quite alone at school and among other people because of my experience with cancer. Camp Angel was a chance for me to learn that I am not alone when I was a child, and so now as a counselor I really try to enforce that mentality on my campers: they are not alone, we are all struggling together and genuinely understand what’s cancer is and can do to a family.”
Michelle said she remembers a young boy coming up to her and thanking her for doing what she does do and telling her he was thankful his grandfather had finally passed away. He shared with her how difficult it was to see him suffer.
Reece recalls the Saturday night of summer Camp Angel when they do the song at the end: “Calling all Angels” (a song Alayna likes as well, causing her to tear up when she hears it outside camp).
“My favorite camp activity is before my girls are winding down for the night and we all sit together in a circle and share why we are all at camp,” said Alayna. “This usually happens the first night of camp. Before this the girls are a little shy of each other, but the next day they are inseparable.”
Asked what advice she would give to anyone looking to volunteer with an organization like Angle On My Shoulder, Michelle said, “I would advise for them to do it! It may mean you have to step out of your comfort zone at some point but there are so many opportunities to help. Something can be found for anyone’s level of commitment.”
“It has become a part of our life, a tradition if you will,” she added. “We have certainly gained more from these experiences then we have given and will be forever grateful for the opportunity to connect with some amazing and resilient people.”