In May it was announced that Camp Hope would move to Camp Wood near Elmdale this year with plans to return to Barton County in the future. It was to make its return after being canceled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemeic.
However, with the number of COVID cases on the rise, organizers announced last week that Camp Hope and its sister Camp SIBSational would not take place this year either, said Gail Moeder, vice president of the KyMel Board of Directors. KyMel is the Great Bend-based non-profit organization that operates Camp Hope (for children with cancer) and SIBSational (for siblings of kids with cancer).
Both were set to begin Sunday, running concurrently at Camp Wood in Chase County.
“It was a very difficult decision for the KyMel Board of Directors to make,” Moeder said of the action taken Thursday. “Our board of directors truly did not make this decision lightly. We know that camp has so many benefits and is vitally important to our campers (and volunteers).”
They had hoped having the camps later in the summer would allow time for the pandemic to be more under control. But, “while trends in early summer were promising, there has unfortunately been a recent rapid rise in COVID in our region, even among vaccinated individuals, with more severe illness among non-vaccinated people,” Moeder said.
“The safety of our campers and volunteers is always our top priority,” she said. “So we feel like we have reached the point that we can no longer safely hold in-person camps.”
In 2020 the board chose to offer virtual camps that children could attend from home. They have continued with these this year.
They have had seven virtual camp sessions this year, with an eighth one taking place Tuesday. “They have been a lot of fun and the campers have enjoyed them,” Moeder said.
They are also planning a virtual talent show later this week.
For most of its history, Camp Hope had been held at Barton Community College’s Camp Aldrich conference center. And “our plan is for Camp Hope to return to Camp Aldrich in 2022,” she said.
In 2020 the KyMel board canceled all in-person summer camps because of COVID-19. This affected both Camp Hope and Camp SIBsational, which is usually held at Camp Wood in Chase County.
Camp Hope has been held every summer since 1983 and until last year had been held in Barton County every summer since 1984. It offers a free, fun camp experience to children 5-17 years old who have or have had cancer. There is also a day camp starting at age 4 for youths who are too young or simply unable to attend the full week of camp.
Camp SIBsational, the first sibling-only camp of its kind in the region, is for kids between the ages of 5 and 17. It was first offered in 2019.
Camp Hope is accredited by the American Camp Association. A full medical staff on-site allows campers to attend even if they are on active treatment. Typically, a team of 120 volunteers — including physicians, oncology nurses, ER nurses, pediatric nurses, pharmacists, and a mental health specialist — assist 60-80 campers each summer.