When Camp Hope got its start in 1983, there was nothing like it in the United States: A camp for children with cancer.
The original Camp Hope organizers knew it would take many volunteers, including medical personnel trained in pediatric oncology, to handle any situation that might come up, according to Kevin W. Brown, author of “Camp Hope: The ‘Ma Donna’ Years 1983-2000.”
After the safety concerns, “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. 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 been in Barton County, usually at Barton Community College’s Camp Aldrich Conference Center. After the Camp Aldrich Dining Hall burned down, camp moved to the BCC campus for a couple of years while a newer, more accessible building was built.
Great Bend has also been part of the camp experience, with campers coming to the water park, bowling alley and golf course.
When Kevin Brown finishes the second volume on Camp Hope, it will note that it is no longer a project of the American Cancer Society; Camp Hope Heartland is its own nonprofit entity. It is the mission of Camp Hope to provide a normal, active, and safe camp experience where children can celebrate life with, through, and beyond the diagnosis of cancer.
Somewhere along the way, the network of returning campers and volunteers became the Camp Hope Family. If family is defined as a group of people who love and care for each other, the recent 35-year celebration of Camp Hope was truly a family reunion.