Camp Hope wrapped up Saturday at Barton Community College. With 68 campers and more than 100 volunteers, the week-long camp made use of the campus, with visits to Great Bend attractions such as the Wetlands Waterpark. The annual golf tournament was held Wednesday at StoneRidge County Club.
Now in its 33th year, Camp Hope is a free summer camp for Kansas area children who have, or have had, cancer. Children with cancer want to do all the same fun things that healthy children do, said Barb Keltner, the camp media volunteer. Thanks to Camp Hope, these wishes become reality.
“We can’t say enough about Great Bend,” Keltner said. Local businesses and individuals have contributed donations and time for more than 30 years. Kansas’ first Camp Hope was at Salina, but ever since it has been located in Barton County — usually at the college’s Camp Aldrich Conference Center. The camp moved on campus after a fire destroyed the Camp Aldrich Dining Hall, which is being rebuilt.
One camper’s story
Jamie Cockerham, a junior at Kansas State University, served as the new activities volunteer this year, after 10 years of being a camper. The Great Bend Tribune asked Cockerham to describe what Camp Hope has meant to her.
“One of the things that stands out to me the most about my first year at Camp Hope was how incredibly supportive and encouraging the volunteers were when I was homesick. I had just been diagnosed with cancer not too long before. I was extremely self conscious of not having any hair. I didn’t know anyone at camp, and that was the first time I had been away from home for more than a day or two. However, the volunteers immediately started helping me to get acquainted and involved in lots of activities, and by the end of the week, I never wanted to leave camp!
“It was also the first time I had been around other kids who were going through or had gone through what I was experiencing with my cancer and treatments. My friends at school were nice to me, but they always asked me uncomfortable questions about my cancer, having no hair, or wearing a wig, because they didn’t understand. When I went to Camp Hope each year, everyone knew what I was going through, and instead of finding myself in uncomfortable conversations, it actually helped me forget about the cancer all together. I was simply too busy having fun and meeting new friends!
“I definitely think those 10 years as a camper at Camp Hope boosted my confidence in myself, especially about what I could accomplish in life with, or without, cancer. My experience with cancer and others around me at Camp Hope helped me to realize that cancer wasn’t a weight dragging me down, or even a crutch to lean on. It was an experience I would learn and grown from, a lesson of life even. At a very early age it taught me to make the most of every opportunity I have, live in the moment because you never know how many moments you will have, and to strive for a life of no regrets about what could have been.
“The countless and selfless hours I watched volunteers put into making Camp Hope a great success year and year again certainly instilled in me the love for volunteer and community work that I now have. Throughout college I have enjoyed volunteering in activities such as dodgeball fundraisers for the Women’s Crisis Center, vacation Bible school, Relay For Life events, and even teaching English to Italian children in Florence, Italy, but I know that volunteering at Camp Hope this week is going to, by far, top them all. I have such a personal connection to Camp Hope and everyone there, and now being able to give back as a volunteer what so many people gave to me in my 10 years as a camper, is one of the most rewarding feelings I could imagine.