Harrison Sellers gives Camp Hope two thumbs up. Harrison, who prefers to be called “Harry,” is almost 10 years old and is attending the annual camp for the fourth time.
The camp is based at Barton Community College’s Camp Aldrich and is only for children and adolescents who have been diagnosed with cancer at some time. They know they’ll be safe at camp because it is staffed with volunteers that include doctors and other medical personnel trained in pediatric oncology. They know they’ll have fun because the volunteers and area businesses plan a full week of activities, and because those who return each year, like Harry, become a close-knit extended family.
“I guess that’s why it’s called Camp Hope,” he said. “I love Camp Hope and I’m sure a lot of other people do too.
“We’ve been doing all sorts of stuff,” the boy from Kansas City said as he headed to a table where snow cones were being served. Always polite, he asked this reporter, “Would you like a snow cone?” Then he walked outside to take part in a game of Human Battleship, played with water balloons.
Some of his activities have included a lip sync contest where he performed “Busy Earnin’” by Jungle. “I was really good,” Harry said. He planned to actually sing the song Thursday evening at the camp’s talent show.
This was also the fourth year for camper Addison Leslie, a 13-year-old student from Southwest Middle School in Lawrence. She recalls being scared when she got on the bus at Topeka four years ago for the 190-mile trip west to Barton County. But then she met her houseparents at camp and all was well.
“I don’t like going to sleep at night because I don’t want the day to end,” Addison said. “It’s really fun and when you’re at Camp Hope it feels like you’re at home.”
She was in the craft room Thursday afternoon, painting a flower pot. Addison and Harry have also been working on costumes for Friday night’s dance, which will have an outer space theme.
Her favorite things to do at Camp Hope are to visit Great Bend’s Wetlands Water Park and eat good food, including fish that the campers catch themselves. The Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism always stocks the Camp Aldrich pond for the event, then KDWPT employees clean and cook the fish.
Barb Keltner, the camp media coordinator, said there are always friendly helpers pitching in that way. This year’s trip to the water park was canceled due to the weather, but the owner of Golden Belt Cinema 6 was ready with “Plan B” for Thursday’s trip to Great Bend. He opened the theater early for campers and volunteers, who got to see “Incredibles 2.”
“Great Bend’s wonderful to us,” said Keltner, a retired teacher from Eudora. “We filled the whole theater with 200 people.” Keltner has been coming to Camp Hope for 26 years. She produces a daily newsletter, which is enjoyed by campers and their parents back home who wonder what they are doing. For the “Space Dance,” she planned to be dressed as an “Alien Reporter.”
Other local volunteers include members of the Claflin Fire Department, who were set to be on standby Thursday night during a fireworks display after the talent show.
Friday evening the campers will begin packing up to go home on Saturday. In the morning they will eat cinnamon rolls and watch a video of camp highlights. Then the volunteers will form a large circle around the campers, and everyone will say their goodbyes.
All of this adds up to a week of fun that allows kids with cancer to just be kids. As Harry would say, “Camp Hope is the best camp in the world.”