A new summer day camp for children living with – or living beyond – cancer and blood disorders is hoping to remove barriers for families.
West Coast Kids Cancer Foundation has been piloting the free City Camp program out of A H P Matthew Elementary this week, with a second Surrey session being held July 22 to 26. There will also be a Vancouver camp July 29 to Aug. 2.
The day camp, in partnership with the Surrey School District, is for children aged six to 12, with different themed activities each day. The camp also has a doctor and two nurses on site to help with the children.
“Honestly, it came out of a conversation with a young adult who is a cancer survivor… one of the things she said to me was that when she had cancer years ago, she didn’t know anyone who looked like her — she’s Punjabi,” said WCK Foundation executive director Shannon Hartwig.
“One of the things we started thinking about is what is a program that we can create that’s super culturally appropriate for diverse backgrounds and also for kids who might be too sick for any other types of program and then go back to the comfort of their own home or go back to the hospital where they can have the reassurance and comfort.”
But the camp isn’t just for children living with – or living beyond – cancer and blood disorders.
It’s also for siblings of those living with, or living beyond, cancer and blood disorders.
Kelsey Merritt, the day camp program co-ordinator, said getting to take part in this pilot program is “so much bigger than anything I could have ever imagined.”
“Simply, we’re here playing, having kids here, campers, we’re saying ‘Hi’ to the parents and saying, ‘If you need anything, let me know.’ But it’s so much more than that and you kind of forget because you’re having so much fun here.”
Hartwig said the camp is about removing barriers.
“Some kids didn’t show up on Monday, so we just called them. Mom was like, ‘I’m swamped. My littlest one who’s really sick needs to go to the hospital,’ and we just said, ‘We’ll come pick up your kids then,’” said Hartwig, adding the mom was surprised the volunteers would help pick up the kids each day throughout the week.
“It’s all about removing barriers and allowing kids to have fun and have a summertime memory in a time that might not be great.”
Meantime, with the Surrey School District offering up the space for the camp, Hartwig said the district decided to run a work-experience course for students to volunteer during the two camp sessions, along with a two-week course in the lead up to the camp.
Paul Bruce, a career facilitator with the district, said the students did different workshops, team building activities, as well as met with an oncologist and art therapist to talk about grief and loss before helping out with the day camp.
Krystle Sievert, who just graduated from Clayton Heights Secondary, said her career advisor told her she would be a good fit for the camp.
“Meeting the kids, finally, after the two weeks made it even more phenomenal than we thought,” Sievert said. “It’s so much more amazing seeing the diverse populations of dealing with oncology and hematology. Despite that, we realize that they’re just kids and all they want to do is just play and the energy levels are through the roof.”
Asked if the kids forget what they’re going through at home and at the hospital while they’re at the camp, Sievert said it rarely gets brought it.
“Paul always talked about how when you’re actually at the camp, the topics of cancer and blood disorders will never come up because all they want to do is have fun and be kids.”
Seven-year-old Naila Abdi, who has sickle cell, said she’s been enjoying the first few days of camp.
Naila said it’s her first time going to camp, but she said she wasn’t scared.
“I thought I had to go to the forest for summer camp.”
For more information on the camps, visit wckfoundation.ca/what-we-do-1.
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This is one of our awesome campers Naila with her cool toy! We did a bunch of crafts and games today, but our favourite part is getting to spend time with kids like her! We looked forward to this day camp ALL YEAR LONG! #dowhatyoulove #forkidsforfamilies #spillalittlefun #citycamp