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On a mission for children

Local runner seeks donations to send afflicted children to Newman camp



Divna Wheelwright runs because chronically ill children cannot. To raise awareness of them, she’ll compete in the Los Angeles Marathon on May 25, her first long-distance event. She’s been training for three months with the SLO RoadRunners under Coach Roger Warnes.
“Never in my life did I think that I would complete a marathon,” Wheelwright confessed (her longest run was six miles before she started training for the event), “but never in my life did I think I would be so profoundly changed by a summer in the high desert.” 
Last summer, Wheelwright worked at one of Paul Newman’s Hole in the Wall Gang Camps in California, an opportunity she calls a “pivotal point in my life,” that prompted her to work toward a master’s degree in child development. She’ll continue as a behavioral health specialist at a preschool for severely autistic children in North County until this autumn, when she’ll attend Tufts University, on her way to working with chronically ill children as a career.

Wheelwright has already started gathering donations to benefit the Newman camps, using her marathon run as an inducement, and created a website through which people can contribute. She’s is a little more than halfway to her goal of raising $1000 for the cause. 
The long miles a distance runner must endure are lightened by remembering the children in the camp, she said: “Although they are unable to run, their joy, their vivacity, and their remembered laughter give me the strength to keep running. Every time I run I like to think that I am taking my campers with me.”

According to the website for Newman’s Lake Hughes, California camp, the Painted Turtle Camp (, children ages 7 to 16 are welcomed each summer for sessions of 5 to 7 days. Each session focuses on children who have one of the medical conditions that could most benefit from camp opportunities in California. The particular conditions the Painted Turtle will serve this summer include: Crohn’s disease and colitis, hemophilia, kidney disease and transplant, liver transplant, skeletal dysplasia, diabetes, and muscular dystrophy.

The camp, which is the sixth addition to Paul Newman’s family of Hole in the Wall Camps for seriously ill children in the United States, hosts hundreds of children. So far those and other camps the actor assisted in creating worldwide have served more than 100,000 children from 34 states and 31 countries.  Painted Turtle, however, is the only multi-disease camp and family care center of its kind on the West Coast, according to the website.

Wheelwright says Newman credited luck as a dominant force in his life.  “He asked why are some children born with chronic illnesses?  Why have I had tremendous good fortune as an actor and entrepreneur and others not?”  She recalls “the feel of a camper lying in my arms—the weightlessness that crushes. I know am incredibly blessed, therefore, I must give back.”

Donations will go directly to helping children attend the camp, including room and board, Wheelwright explained. “I want as many children as possible to be able to experience this life-changing place.”

Fast facts

Learn about the many restaurants, wineries, and breweries that San Luis Obispo County has to offer and help out two local nonprofit organizations, while you’re at it. Flavor of SLO is a nonprofit fundraiser that will feature tastings from more than 23 local establishments as well local music from Central Currency and CRITICNUE, face painting, and raffle prizes. Proceeds will be donated to the United Way of San Luis Obispo County and Alpha Pregnancy Counseling and Support. Tickets range from $15 to $28 and a Family Pack option is available for those purchasing four or more tickets. Tickets are available at, or at the event for an extra $5. The all-ages event will take place from noon to 4 p.m. on Sunday, May 31 at Mitchell Park in San Luis Obispo. For more information, visit the website or contact Executive Director Jessica Sisco at (530) 570-2877. …

Learn the correct way to plant and care for trees by checking out the Arbor Day Foundation’s newly updated Conservation Trees booklet. Booklets are available for a $3 donation to the nonprofit organization, and feature step-by-step illustrations, colorful photos, and easy-to-follow text on how to plant and prune trees. Also included are tips on how to use shade trees and windbreaks to save money on energy bills. To order a booklet, send a $3 check along with your name and address to Conservation Trees, Arbor Day Foundation, 100 Arbor Ave., Nebraska City, NE 68410, or order online at …

The City of San Luis Obispo has announced the public opening of Johnson Ranch, a 
242-acre open space of land at the intersection of South Higuera and Ontario Road, about 1.5 miles south of the city. A ribbon-cutting ceremony will take place at 1 p.m. on Friday, May 22. Guests are welcome to explore the trail following the ceremony. The city aims to conserve and enhance biodiversity while providing the public with a recreation area.

Freelance writer Mark Arnold contributed the Strokes feature this week; interns Matt Fountain and Omar Sanchez compiled Fast facts.  Send your business and nonprofit news to [email protected].

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