Super Gummi Bears, Ninja Tiger Dogs and Jeff Goldblum’s Dinosaur Dance Party are some of the names chosen by teams at the 2015 Camp Hope.
Sixty-eight children and 109 volunteers have moved into the dorms at Barton Community College this week for what some believe is the best camp ever. Some have already run in the Human Hamster Ball, caught a fish or sprinted through a Color Run. Before the week is over, they will have done much more, said Barb Keltner, the camp media volunteer.
Camp Hope is free and open to children across Kansas and surrounding areas ages 6 to 17 years old who have, or have had, cancer. The goal is to let them enjoy everything that makes summer time and summer camp special. Medical personnel are available around the clock to administer routine chemotherapy, arrange for blood counts, administer medications, handle medical emergencies, and adjust any programs to campers’ needs, Keltner said.
There are 12 first-time campers for this, the 33rd annual Camp Hope for central Kansas. For 32 years, it’s been held in Barton County. Most of the campers and volunteers have been here before – some returning year after year.
“I think that speaks to how much fun it is to be at camp, and the people. These are special kids,” Keltner said.
Alyssa Trevino attended her first Camp Hope as a camper in 2001. “When the last day came, I had no intentions of leaving because I had soo much fun,” she said. She returned for the next nine years, but didn’t stop coming after she turned 18. She waited one year, which is recommended, and then returned as a camp volunteer.
“I absolutely love kids and work very well with them,” Trevino said. “I couldn’t not come back to help out with some of the little ones I had bonded with over the years. Being there to help out, as well as being a positive role model for others, is something that brings a smile to my face and just makes me feel good inside.
“Camp Hope is such a special place because I could just be a kid here and enjoy all the activities set up with others who are just like me,” she continued. “Camp Hope is like my home away from home, my second family; I’ve pretty much grown up with my house parents and many of the volunteers who have been there throughout the years.”
She was only able to volunteer for one summer, because she enrolled in an accelerated nursing program that went all year. But Trevino, now 23, graduated with honors on June 4, and is back at Camp Hope.
She spends her “quiet times” studying for the NCLEX, the test for her license as a Registered Nurse, which she will take next Tuesday.
“I will soon be fulfilling my dreams of becoming a pediatric oncology nurse,” she said. “I have already accepted a position in oncology at Hutchinson Regional Medical Center and plan on staying there for a while until I move into the pediatric part of it. ... I cannot wait to make a positive difference in my patients’ lives as my nurses did for me.”
On Tuesday, Trevino helped camper Ayla Gard, 11, catch a fish “as long as her arm” with a juicy worm as bait, when campers went fishing as a nearby pond.
“We got the first bite,” Trevino said, “but not the first fish.”
Gard caught four fish in all. Kathryn Woodruff, a 17-year-old camper from Wichita, had hoped to surpass her record of nine fish but only caught one. Since this is her last year as a camper, the record will have to stand. Woodruff is also busy this week planning a special song for the camp talent show.
Keltner said campers who go fishing have a good chance of catching at least one fish, because the Kansas Wildlife, Parks & Tourism department stocks the pond before Camp Hope. KWPT employees also clean the catch and prepare a fish fry for the campers.
Young first-time campers sometimes experience homesickness, but the best cure for that is making a friend, Keltner said. She described two 6-year-old girls whose parents weren’t sure they’d be up to it. They were assigned to the same room, and as they brought in their decorations and bedsheets from home, they discovered they had a shared interest in the Disney movie, “Tangled.”
“They became instant best friends,” Keltner said.
Seasoned campers find even more to do. “There’s a lot going on,” said Kaitlynn Schaper, from the group for girls 11-13 years old, which chose the group name Crazy Lazy Squad. They’ve been swimming and played laser tag, along with something called King Ooga Booga. “It’s a special thing we do with our new volunteers,” she said.
First-time camper Aryana Taylor, 6, was playing a game of Monopoly Junior after breakfast Tuesday morning. She may not yet know the secrets of the veterans, but she and her fellow Super Gummi Bears were already playing pranks on the boys.
Taylor was joined by another first-time camper, 8-year-old Jazzy Boothe, who was holding a stuffed bunny she named Hope.
“Hope really wanted to come to Camp Hope,” Boothe said. “When I told her we were coming to Camp Hope, she freaked out, because that’s her name!”
Hannah Peterson from Independence, Mo., was diagnosed with cancer when she was 17 and could only attend as a camper for one year. “I was One and Done,” she said.
Now volunteering for her seventh year, Peterson said she initially resisted coming to Camp Hope because she thought “camp is for kids.”
Her doctor at Children’s Mercy Hospital thought otherwise, and ordered her to go.
“He said, ‘I saved your life,’” so there was no arguing, Peterson said. “I went to camp and it was the best time of my life.”
Now Peterson is director of a center in Kansas City, Missouri, that provides safety and services to people who have experienced domestic violence. It’s called Hope House, which is only fitting for a Camp Hope alumna.
Hope is easy to find at Camp Hope.