Volunteers also provide support after the summer ends
Spending a week in the sun away from home is a tempting prospect for any kid, including kids fighting disease. Fueled by more than 200 volunteers, Camp Quality is a summer camp for children living with cancer. It also works to improve the quality of life for children year round, and focuses on building skills like swimming, hiking, kayaking and storytelling.
Beyond minor counselling and support groups, the camp allows kids to enjoy summer basics. The make new friends, explore nature and try several new activities – all in an environment where they are not defined by their cancer.
This year, the camp hosted it largest group of campers ye -- 76 attendees and 130 volunteers. Even higher numbers are expected next year. Organizers said finding volunteers is always the camp's biggest challenge, because they want to ensure each child has proper care.
Campers are each accompanied by one counsellor, who are referred to as 'companions'.
"A lot of summer camps do groups -- we do one-on-one,," said Matt Harris, a counsellor, and now media coordinator, in his fourth year at Camp Quality. “It gives these kids a kind of big brother, big sister, to look after them -- and it really gives them someone to look up to, someone they can confide in and even more so throughout the year, our counsellors keep in touch with these kids and it's a new person added into their life year by year.
"Year by year you see them grow. Just from the beginning of the week to the end of the week there's such a vast difference. The growth that these kids get in a week, just from being around like minded peers, is incredible."
With such high attendance rates, organizer worry about finding enough volunteers for next year's camp.
"We advertise and ask for volunteers mostly through word of mouth," said Allison Kennedy, assistant director of Camp Quality Northern Ontario. “Registration is done in January for our July session and we have a couple of events here and there to really try and get the word out, Kennedy hope for more volunteer counsellors for next years camp as number are expected to grow.
"It's a very welcoming environment, and it's pretty clear that kids love coming back year after year."
The camp allows children in remission, along with those currently battling cancer, to attend the camp with their siblings.
"Sometimes we think that it's hard just for the one going through treatment, but it's hard on the whole family," said Harris.
Campers are anywhere from ages 3-18, which has provided for some unlikely friendships and guidance.
Jacob Squarzoco, a 6th grader from Sudbury, said he loves jumping on the trampoline, playing ping-pong with his companion Mike, and coming back and seeing his friends every summer. This is Jacob's fourth year at the camp.
"It's great to see them all get along so well, they all come back year after year, with old friendships and make new ones, and it's just great to see kids being kids'" said Angie Wiwczor, a volunteer nurse practitioner at the camp.
Nurses, medical staff and social workers are all a part of the volunteer lineup. To learn more about Camp Quality Northern Ontario, or to volunteer, visit www.campquality.com.