By Jim Misunas
CAMP ALDRICH — Amanda Bretches of Great Bend volunteers a week each summer helping youngsters enjoy summer camp.
Camp Hope provides youngsters who have had cancer the chance to be with youngsters who have undergone the same experience.
Bretches lives for the smiles on the youngsters’ faces that tell her they are living in the moment, enjoying their times with good friends. Her natural inclination is to help others.
“Every minute is worth it,” she said. “It’s my best time of the year every summer.”
The American Cancer Society sponsors Camp Hope free at Camp Aldrich for youngsters between the ages of 7 and 17 who have had cancer. Day camp is for youngsters ages 4 to 6. There are 94 campers and 82 volunteers from across the state.
“I really enjoy seeing the kids just be themselves,” Bretches said. “There are no worries — it’s all fun. They get to spend time with kids who are just like them.”
Her responsibility is with activities, which involves music, swimming, fishing, hiking, softball, arts and crafts and board games.
“Being in activities, I get to be involved in a little bit of everything and I get to interact with all of the youngsters,” she said. “Every day is always different.”
Before she was eligible to volunteer at Camp Hope, Bretches remembers helping her father Mark Bretches with set up for the camp. Mark Bretches serves as a police officer who spends time as a school liaison officer for Great Bend USD 428.
“I’ve helped behind the scenes, so I know what Camp Hope is all about,” she said. “As soon as I was eligible, I was here in an instant.”
If Bretches gets her wish, her career in pre-med will focus on pediatric oncology, concerned with diagnosing and treating children up to the age of 18 with cancer. She’s a senior at Washburn University majoring in pre-med with an eye on medical school in 2012.
Area volunteers helping Camp Hope include Gail Moeder of Great Bend, Gloria Collier of Hoisington and Gina McGowan of Ellsworth. Barton County youngsters attending include Kira Cook, Adam Jacobs, Zoe Jerke and Dade Cannon of Great Bend and James Schlessiger of Ellinwood.
Dade Cannon, 7, said swimming and fishing are his favorite activities. His way of jumping in the pool “a cannonball,” is a natural.
“I like playing in the swimming pool,” he said.
Dade’s fishing style is also unique. When he isn’t trying to catch a fish with a stick, he’s been known to try and grab fish with his hands.
The 29th Annual Camp Hope carries a theme each day. Bandana Day is followed by Relay for Life Shirt Day, Camo Day, Aflac T-shirt Day, Sport/Team Day, Hippie Day and Goofy Day.