CAMP ALDRICH — Nine-year-old Bailey Thompson from Mulvane caught four little fish Tuesday morning before landing a “whopper,” with the help of a Camp Hope volunteer.
“Bailey was so excited that she was jumping up and down as she was reeling it in,” said Barb Keltner, media coordinator for the annual camp for children with cancer. “Immediately after handing (the fish) off to the kind Kansas Wildlife and Parks guy, Bailey said, ‘Let’s do that again!'”
Scores of children, adolescents and volunteers are visiting Barton County this week for Camp Hope, an annual event that brings young people from across the state to Barton Community College’s Camp Aldrich Conference Center. This camp experience is exclusively for children who have or have had cancer.
The mission of Camp Hope is to provide a normal, active and safe camp experience where children can celebrate life with, through and beyond the diagnosis of cancer. It is open to children 5-17 years old.
While only children who feel well enough to enjoy camp make the trip, there are medical personnel trained in pediatric oncology on hand to handle any situation that might arise.
Keltner, a volunteer from Eudora, said 117 volunteers began arriving last Saturday and 79 campers arrived Sunday afternoon and Monday. There are also five “day campers,” who are either younger or wanted a less intense experience. (Children as young as 4 can attend day camp.)
“Camp started off great,” Keltner said. Tuesday activities began with a fishing derby, followed by a color run, slip and slide kickball, crafts, swimming and lip sync battles. After the evening meal, campers could partake in archery and painting.
Remembering Dade Cannon
One girl who became friends with Great Bend resident Dade Cannon made a special donation to Camp Hope in his memory. Cannon was 14 years old when he died on Jan. 12, 2018.
“Sweet 9-year-old Avery Pounds made a VERY nice donation to Camp Hope as her birthday wish,” Keltner said. “As her birthday was approaching, Avery Pounds told her mother that instead of receiving gifts, she’d like her family and friends to make donations to Camp Hope in memory of her friend Dade Cannon. The family had a birthday party for Avery, of course, but her gifts were all donations to Camp Hope — and the final total was over $900.”
Avery’s mother, Tasha Pounds of Overland Park, is a volunteer at Camp Hope for the first time this year. As for Avery, “she very much wants to be a volunteer when she’s old enough,” Keltner said. Avery’s grandparents are Niki Cotton and Greg and Anita Saffa, all of Great Bend.
Great Bend residents and businesses are always happy to help make the camp experience memorable. There were trips to town for roller skating and bowling/mini golf on Wednesday. Campers had planned to visit the Wetlands Water Park and the Great Bend Brit Spaugh Zoo on Thursday, but sponsors canceled those activities due to the threat of inclement weather. They’ll be going to a movie instead.
Others help financially. Earlier in the year, the Barton County Employees donated items from the Camp Hope Wish List. Barton Community College also raised $2,500 for Camp Hope at a “Pink Out Night” during basketball season.
Former campers also like to give back, Keltner said. This year 25 former campers have returned as volunteers.
About Camp Hope
Kevin W. Brown, whose mother “Ma Donna” Brown help get Camp Hope started back in 1983, wrote a book about its history. “It was important to create an environment where campers could be themselves and have fun just like at any other camp, without having to worry about anything,” he wrote. “Whether they were bald, or in a wheelchair, or missing a limb, as long as they felt good enough to go and their doctor approved, the committee was determined to make their time at Camp Hope a week to remember.”
The first camp was held at a facility near Salina, but ever since 1984 it has come to Barton County. Accredited by the American Camp Association, it is sponsored by a 501(c)3 nonprofit entity called Camp Hope Heartland. It is also a member of the Children’s Oncology Camping Association International.
Camp Hope is free for all the attendees, and sponsors provide free bus transportation from Kansas City, Topeka and Wichita.
Volunteers come from as far away as Alaska, and there are 15 campers from Missouri and one from Oklahoma. From the Golden Belt this year: one camper is from Chase, two from Great Bend, one from Larned and one from Pawnee Rock.