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How it all started…small steps, big shoes.

Over the summer of 2011 I was fortunate enough to experience being a volunteer at Paul Newman’s Hole in the Wall Gang Camp in Connecticut.  This camp offered me a whole new level of experience.  Built for kids who have a life threatening illness, camp was by far the happiest place I’ve ever been.  Many of the campers have/had cancer while others struggle with HIV/AIDS, Sickle Cell Anemia, and other uncommon illnesses.  A memory I dwell on often is from a specific morning when I woke up my campers.  I went around the room and when I got to one of them, she asked me to bring her leg to her.  You really don’t think about everything you have until you are carrying a thirteen year olds leg across the cabin to her bunk so she can attach it, in order to get out of her bed and start her day.

Another fond memory was watching campers be liberated from their disease.  On talent night I held back tears as I watched a beautiful bald teenage girl (currently going through chemo, at camp) play the piano like a healthy rock star.  To see children with backpacks holding the food that feeds them twenty hours a day, sing and dance like they were on top
of the world, was amazing.  Standing ovations were not uncommon on talent night. These kids instantly became my heroes.

While I was at camp, I met two volunteers who were the weekly “clowns”.  They were not your stereotypical birthday party clowns but rather “Caring Clowns”.  These clowns are a part of Big Apple Circus’s clown care program.  It involves professional clowns who visit hospitals to heal kids through laughter and play. Inspired by this concept when I returned to Chicago I investigated the idea to see if we had a Caring Clown program.  It was hard to find but after searching for a program, I was able to learn alongside a local Caring Clown.   Embarrassed to meet her at a local pancake shop because she was in costume,  I soon embraced it.  I was quickly briefed over breakfast and an hour later, found myself walking into the hospital dressed in wacky mismatched clothes and YES a big red nose.

I proceeded to hand out stickers, sing songs, and tell jokes to some who couldn’t even talk.  As I walked around the rehab floor, I recall a woman around my age that was curled up in the fetal position.  She was drooling on her pillow while a friend held her hand at her bedside.  I remember walking in and having tears stream down my face as I couldn’t hold them back anymore.  I didn’t know if I could actually do this without breaking down.  I quickly switched my thinking and my only thought was that I needed to make her feel some sort of joy.  I asked her if she wanted a sticker.  She nodded and I put a sticker on her.  I wasn’t sure if she could smile but I could tell by looking at her eyes that she was happy.  As I was about to leave, I noticed she had a teddy bear sitting next to her in the bed.  I looked at her and said “I think your bear needs a sticker too”.  I leaned over to put a sticker on her bear and as I looked up a huge smile started to appear on her face.  Sounds came out of her mouth but no words were clear.  She began to flap her arms with excitement and Dr. Clown, who I was with, told me that was one of the first time she had ever witnessed this particular woman smile.

Up until that day I had no idea that a simple smile would mean so much to someone in a great deal of pain.  I can’t wait to begin my journey in Peru as I make my way to the bedsides of children who will be recovering from painful surgeries.

19 Responses to How it all started…small steps, big shoes.

  1. Mary Witczak says:

    Your blog is great and I am looking forward to following along with your journey to Peru. Love, mom

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  2. Mary Lamb says:

    You are an amazing woman. I look forward to reading about your newest adventure and how you will enrich lives down in Peru.

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  3. Kathleen McKee says:

    We are so excited to be able to watch this incredible experience through your blog. I am sure that the McKee kiddos will LOVE checking in with their Witczak. We busted out the globe last night to show them where you are going!

    You are truly remarkable! Now your passion and dedication will be felt by people in another HEMISPHERE – fantastic.

    We love you and can’t wait to see your journey!

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  4. Marc Ziner says:


    God Bless You for showing us how it’s done and for setting the bar high for the rest of us. Keep doing extraordinary things… just watch your step in those great looking shoes!

    The Ziners love Witczak!!!

    » Reply
  5. Mary Mosier says:

    What the world needs now – more Julie Witczaks! Happy travels – I look forward to following your blog.

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  6. Holly Feldman says:

    When I pick a Godparent for my child… I don’t mess around.
    Thank you for being a better example to Elliott and his sisters than their parents! I understand it’s important that they have a good role model…

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  7. Jed "Duffy" Selter says:

    OH NO! Who let “Penpal” OUT TO TRAVEL???(And who is this Julie person?)

    We are absolutley delighted to have Penpal join us on this our 12th trip to Peru. She will be a great addition to our small clown troupe. Whoo Hoo…and I luv all the comments fron everyone on the blog. What warmth and caring!!!

    U ROK Penpal!!!


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  8. dana says:

    Enjoy your next big adventure!

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  9. Peg Moneypenny says:

    Have fun clowning around!
    Safe Travels

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  10. Faye says:

    I know you’ll impact lives in Peru just like you do here at CMS. No one can fill your shoes, no matter how big they are!

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  11. Mary Witczak says:

    We hope you have arrived safely. We will be following your amazing journey with all of your friends and students. We love you and are so proud of all that you do for others.
    Love you, mom and dad

    » Reply
  12. Tom Winscher says:

    Way to Go Julie! What an awesome program! I am sure your family is proud of the love and compassion you are showing in this effort.

    You are in our prayers!

    Tom and Judy Winscher

    » Reply
  13. Jae Lynch and Jimmy Wolk says:

    Awesome, Julie! We’re so proud to call you a friend and future roommate. Thanks for always putting others before yourself. You’re a true inspiration and we’ll be looking for updates!
    J and Jim

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  14. Peggy Hagaman says:

    Julie , safe travels and much joy on this incredible journey you are on…..there is no doubt you will bring laughter and delight to each child who you’ll meet along the way, just as you have with our children in the classroom:) Thank you for sharing your trip experiences we are excited to follow your blog!
    Sending hugs your way:)
    The Hagaman Familiy

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  15. Stacey Max says:

    Loving the pictures so far on Facebook- Can’t wait to hear about the adventure! Enjoy!

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  16. This is a nice post!

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  17. Dan Weber says:

    Julie – You are a great inspiration to those around you and have touched lives in many regions for years. Your stories are infectious and no doubt this trip to Peru will be no different. Safe travels home; we look forward to hearing of your most recent adventure.

    Dan Weber

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  18. Howdy! Someone in my Myspace group shared this site with us so I came to take a look. I’m definitely enjoying the information. I’m bookmarking and will be tweeting this to my followers! Outstanding blog and fantastic style and design.

    » Reply
  19. Kathleen Maguire says:

    Dear Julie, Thank you Julie for your inspiring
    story and for all that you do. You are such an
    inspiration and funny besides. Even though I
    am not at school I think of you often especially
    when the laughs need to come.

    Kisses and Hugs, Kathleen

    » Reply

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