For the sixth year in a row Kay's Kamp offered summer activities to kids battling cancer.
Hunched over and scribbling fiercely with a black color marker was five-year old Danny. He tried carefully to stay within the outline of a medieval knight that was printed on the front of a white T-shirt.
“I can do this,” said Danny focusing on his project. “Just a little more color.”
Danny was one of 47 campers enjoying the activities offered at Kay’s Kamp which took place in Middletown from July 12-19. Kay’s Kamp is the only oncology camp in Delaware. Founded in 2009 by Bill and Laurie Warren of Bear, the camp has been a place where kids ages five to 17 enjoy the summer despite their battle with cancer.
“I love it here because I can do so much, like art and play sports,” Danny said.
Across from the future Picasso was his camp counselor, Bailey Brooks of Middletown who smiled and praised Danny as he ardently worked on the craft project. She handed him a different color marker as he moved from the picture of the medieval knight to one of a dinosaur.
“This is my second year as counselor and I hope to do it again next year too,” Brook said. “I like helping the kids. They are great.”
The room where the arts and crafts activities were being held was busy with other kids laughing and smiling as they concentrated on their projects – stuffing toy animals, painting, and decorating bath towels.
St. Andrew’s gift
St. Andrew’s School was again the site of this year’s camp. Surrounded by luscious trees and other greenery, gothic style buildings, and state of the art facilities, volunteer staff could be seen going to and fro, ushering the kids from activity to activity.
“The school’s administration has been so gracious to us,” said Warren. “We have access to every part of the campus. We are really grateful for that. They are amazing.”
Down the hill from the gorgeous architecture of St. Andrew’s visitor center was Noxontown Pond where some of the kids wore life vests and held fishing rods. They could be seen confidently throwing their fishing lines into the glimmering waters waiting to catch some fish.
Thirteen-year-old Keila was in the fishing group alongside her counselor Alicia. They exchanged conversations that frequently erupted into laughter.
“I like the counselors a lot,” said Keila. “They can be silly and make us laugh a lot. It’s so much fun to be here.”
Paying it forward
For the adults at the camp seeing kids like Danny and Keila laugh and enjoy themselves is what motivates them to volunteer year after year. Volunteers come from all walks of life and backgrounds. Some are retired, others have full-time jobs, and some are just taking time off.
Brenda Penhollow of Bear created and coordinated all the arts and craft activities that kids like Danny enjoyed. She took a one week vacation from her job at M&T Bank to volunteer at the camp.
“You fall in love with the kids. They are your heroes and become like family. When I see them loving the crafts, that’s my reward,” Penhollow said.
This summer more than 146 volunteers participated in the camp; over 30 percent of them were medical staff – nurses and doctors of oncology who took time off their busy schedules too to take part in the camp.
“For me it’s good to see the kids outside a hospital setting,” said Dr. Tracy Hills, a third year resident in the Oncology Department at duPont Hospital. “It’s good to be reminded that these are real kids and not just patients.”
According to Bob Howatt of Wilmington, the camp’s operations director, the medical staff is with the kids 24 hours a day for the entire duration of the camp, seven days.
“The medical staff needs to monitor the health of kids while they are here. They have to make sure there aren’t any infections and things of that sort,” said Hawatt.
It takes about 11 months out of a year to plan Kay’s Kamp, according to Warren. All the planning, preparation, and coordination of the activities culminate every year in a beautiful closing ceremony where both kids and adults review videos and photos of the times spent at the camp.
“The kids give you a smile, they give you a hug,” said Gretchen Loose, Kay’s Kamp public relations coordinator. “Here they enjoy being themselves.”
Warren hopes that one day Kay’s Kamp will be held on its own property – one with cabins, lakes or rivers, everything that would add to the kids’ summer camp experiences.
“We need money to do that,” Warren said nodding. “More donations would be great to make that a reality.”
For more information or to make a donation, visit Kay’s Kamp website at KaysKamp.org.