At Kay's Kamp in Middletown, children meet campers with similar experiences

For almost a week at camp, the young girls at cabin #3 asked program director Derek Chatham to put on a little tutu around his waist.

This was at Kay’s Kamp, a week-long camp for children with cancer. Fun, laughter, and a sense of normalcy for these children is the camp’s purpose.

Chatham complied with the girls’ wishes and slipped on the tutu over his pants to the roar of laugher from the children in the balloon-filed cafeteria where the camp was held last week at St. Andrew’s School in Middletown.

They had lunch after their little surprise and some danced on their chairs while singing pop music. And some played card games, table hockey, and took chances to win prizes by spinning a wheel.

The week, which ended this year on July 29 for kids aged 5 to 17, was full of activities including sports, games, arts and crafts, glow-in-the-dark bowling, digital photography, and a dance. There was also canoeing, fishing, and swimming.

During the week, there are themes for certain days. For example, July 27 was reverse day. The campers had dinner for breakfast and breakfast for dinner. Usually, there’s cabin chat at night, but instead on Thursday, it was held in the morning where counselors ask the campers a question.

One of the campers, 9-year-old Kate McKinery of Middletown, has been going to the camp for three years now.

“I love it. It’s nice,” she said. “There’s other kids like me. It just makes me feel comfortable that I’m not the only person who has this” illness.

When she’s not at camp, Kate said she finds it helpful to talk to her mother when she feels down. She also finds strength by listening to music, particularly the popular song “Fight Song” by Rachel Platten. Also, the “Lost Boy” song is helpful to listen to, she said.

Kaden Curtis, a teenager from Middletown, has been camper at Kay’s Kamp for three years now. He enjoys bonding with new people and fellow cancer survivors and fighters. And he meets the counselors who volunteer to help the campers.

Kaden said he stays positive when it comes to his illness. “I look at the upside of everything. I look at the things I still have versus the negative. I look at the positives, not the negatives,” he said.

The camp has been held for nine years now, and this year, there were 48 campers and 158 staff members, said Lisa Romano, Kay’s Kamp medical coordinator. Last year, there were about 50 children.

Kay’s Kamp staff members are all volunteers including a 24-hour medical team of doctors and nurses on site. All staff members are screened, interviewed, background checked and provided a comprehensive training prior to camp. 

Regular staffers are at least 21 years old. Junior counselors are 19- and 20-years-old and the “leader-in-training” program is open to any young adult who has at one time been diagnosed with cancer or a former camper who is no longer eligible to attend as a camper.

All campers attend free of charge. It costs the nonprofit camp $1,000 a child, so fundraisers are held during the year. Many clubs and organizations pitch in.

Most recently, the Hogs and Heroes Third Annual Motorcycle Run for Fun was held on June 24, which raised money for the camp. Also, a beef and beer was held at Hockessin Memorial Hall where $20,214 was raised.

One of the next fundraisers will be a golf outing on Sept. 14. For details contact Kim McCafferty at KMcCafferty@barclaycardus.com.

Before attending the camp, parents are provided with tips for talking to their child about the experience. Parents are welcome to call the camp office to talk with the staff and find out how their child is doing.

Kay’s Kamp is held at St. Andrew’s School, a 2,200-acre campus situated on the shores of the Noxontown Pond. The property consists of sports fields, rolling hills, wooded acreage, and a variety of buildings including a gym and arts center. Founders Hall serves as the heart of the camp.

Kay’s Kamp was established in 2009 to fulfill the dream and last wish of Kaylyn Warren who was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia at the age of 17. Warren’s dream was to help other kids suffering from all types of childhood cancers through awareness and by opening Kay’s Kamp to bring normalcy into their lives.

For more information about Kay’s Kamp or to donate, see the organization’s website at kayskamp.org. Donations can be one-time or recurring monthly.

Kay’s Kamp can be reached by writing to 560 People’s Plaza #111, Newark, DE 19702 or by calling 1-888-539-3413.