When a child is diagnosed with cancer, they inevitably lose part of the innocence and joy that should come along with growing up and just being a kid.
Throughout this week, one organization has been making the effort to bring some normalcy back into the lives of kids battling cancer at Camp Calvin Crest.
“It’s letting kids, be kids,” Camp Quality Heartland Executive Director Michael Young said. “They have their health issues, and maybe things going on at home, so what we do is give them a camp experience for five days.”
Camp Quality Heartland is part of the national organization Camp Quality USA, which strives to establish and sustain nationwide community-based camping experiences and ongoing support programs for children with cancer and their families.
There are presently 15 camps established in 11 state, with more than 700 children participating in the organization’s camps each summer.
Since Tuesday, Camp Quality Heartland has been providing plenty of fun and support to 35 campers through activities like rock wall climbing, zip lining, swimming, arts, crafts and plenty more at Camp Calvin Crest just south of Fremont.
This year’s summer camp is Camp Quality Heartland’s 24th annual summer camp, and it is being held at Calvin Crest for the very first time.
On Thursday, campers traversed the rock wall at Camp Rivercrest just down the road, as well as splashed in the pool at Calvin Crest and made tie dye t-shirts alongside what Camp Quality refers to as companions.
Companions volunteer their time to spend the week with the campers, and serve as a support system and mentors of the many children who attend each year.
“These companions are what make it, if we didn’t have them we wouldn’t have anything,” Caryn Brown, Treasurer for the national Camp Quality USA organization, said. “These kids need support all year long, they don’t need a counselor one week of the year at some random camp.”
Brown says that what makes Camp Quality special is the relationships that are formed between the campers, who can attend every year until they age out of the camp at 18, and the companions who serve year after year.
“What I love about it is the relationships that are formed,” she said. “A lot of camps are one and done, and at Camp Quality there are companions that are now in their sixties that have been coming from day one.”
According to Young, many campers enjoy the experience so much that when they age out of the program they continue to come back as companions for the next generation of campers.
“They got healthy and they want to give back,” he said. “We kind of nurture a mentor-mentee relationship outside of camp as well.”
At this year’s Camp Quality Heartland summer camp, the tight bond between camper and companion was apparent between 17-year-old camper Liam Reinier of West Des Moines and his companion John Moore who is a retired educator from Omaha.
On Thursday the pair could be found conversing in the arts and crafts room at the camp, sharing quips back and forth at each other.
“Liam has been coming for 10 or 11 years, so he is a veteran of the camp,” Moore said.
“I make sure he feels extra old too,” Reinier quickly responded.
“Don’t believe anything he says,” Moore quipped back.
The pair also shared a tale of their triumphs and failures on the High Ropes Course on Wednesday, as well as their continued planning for the camp talent show.
“We haven’t zeroed in on something just yet, but just know that Cabin #2 will be well represented on center stage,” Moore said.
“We’ll be sent straight to the live shows,” Reinier quickly followed, referring to the well-known ‘America’s Got Talent’ phrase.
Moore says the close-knit family atmosphere that is cultivated at Camp Quality keeps him and many others coming back year after year.
“The kids come and they really get hooked, and the companions get hooked as well,” he said.
According to Young, the camp’s first year at Camp Calvin Crest has been a success so far and he hopes to continue coming back as the organization looks for a permanent ‘home’ camp.
For more information, or to get involved with Camp Quality Heartland, visit the organization’s website campqualityusa.org/htl.