Children with cancer want to do all of the fun things that healthy children do. At Camp Hope, that’s exactly what happens. This week, 77 children are enjoying a free summer camp based at Barton Community College’s Camp Aldrich Conference Center.
The children, ages 5 to 17 years old, come from across Kansas and western Missouri, including two from Great Bend and one each from Chase, Larned and Pawnee Rock. All of them have cancer or have had cancer. Medical personnel are available around the clock to administer routine chemotherapy, arrange for blood counts, handle medical emergencies, and adjust any programs to campers’ needs, said camp media coordinator Barb Keltner. But the emphasis is on having as much fun as possible.
With the help of 101 volunteers, the campers are enjoying a week of swimming, arts and crafts, playing games and exploring the outdoors.
Marriage proposals and Yuck Games
Tuesday’s schedule, for example, included a fishing derby, a shaving cream/water fight known as the “Yuck Games,” Slip and Slide Kickball, a mobile game den, crafts, human-sized hamster balls at the swimming pool, and a trash can band. It was also Crazy Hat/Crazy Hair Day.
“(Tuedsay) was EPIC!” Keltner said. “We even had a surprise marriage proposal!”
The proposal was to Kayla Baker, who volunteers as a Camp Hope counselor every year. Her prospective fiance, Matt Luder, chose to pop the question in front of the campers and fellow volunteers because he knows how much Camp Hope means to her.
He hid in the wings during a group activity where campers sang the John Prine song, “Dear Abby.” It’s a camp tradition to make up lyrics about fellow campers, who stand up when they are the subject of a verse.
Kayla wasn’t sure what was in store when campers started singing about her, until the ring and its bearer were presented.
“She said, ‘Yes,’” Keltner reported.
Golf and tattoos
Wednesday is always set aside for a trip to the Stoneridge County Club in Great Bend. Kids 12 years and older can golf with adult sponsors from the community, while younger kids can enjoy a miniature carnival set up behind the clubhouse.
Scott Lee from Tonganoxie is one of the adult volunteers who comes to Great Bend every year to golf with the campers. Wednesday he shared a golf cart with Andrew Mannell, and learned they had something in common – Lee attended Topeka West High School, and Mannell is a student there.
“I graduated in ’89 and he’ll graduate in ’18,” Lee said.
Meanwhile, children who attended the carnival were racing remote controlled cars, taking aim at the bullseye on a dunk tank, tackling an inflatable obstacle course or jumping in a bounce house. Two volunteers, Great Bend teenagers Rachel Carpenter and Darian Harbaugh sat in the shade, affixing temporary tattoos on any camper who wanted one. “We signed up at a Kayettes meeting,” Carpenter said.
Shelby Jefferson, a 10-year-old girl from Liberty, Missouri, showed her new body art: a yellow smilie face. She said she chose that tattoo because, “It made me smile.”
Camp Hope aims to be a week filled with smiles. Trips into Great Bend will also include visits to Walnut Bowl for bowling and miniature golf, and to the Wetlands water park.
Back at Camp Aldrich
Camp Hope is again based at the Camp Aldrich facility, located between Cheyenne Bottoms and Claflin. For the past two years camp was held on the Barton Community College campus while a new dining hall was under construction at the conference center.
Everyone is happy to be back at Camp Aldrich, Keltner said.
The new dining hall has more space, so activities such as arts and crafts that were once outdoors under a tent have moved inside. There is also room in the basement for the medical team to work out of that central location.
Online: Learn more about the Camp Hope Heartland at camphopeheartland.com.