Summer camp . . . some of us have fond memories that include campfires and marshmallows, fishing and swimming, making special friends, and just having some care-free fun. For others of us, summer camp brings painful recollections of being away from home surrounded by strangers and mosquitoes. For most of us, though, the experience falls somewhere in the middle.
But for the kids who attend
Camp Quality Michigan,
the camp experience is a whole lot more than just some outdoor
activities for week – providing help in dealing the physical and
emotional challenges they face when battling cancer. This camp is
designed to ensure that "every child who has been diagnosed with
cancer can not only have a summer camp experience, but year-round
programs to enhance their quality of life and encourage family time."
Camp Quality Michigan has only one overarching goal: "Letting
kids with cancer be kids again."
What Is Camp Quality
Camp Quality provides, to say
the least, something unique when it comes to the camp experience. For
it has as its three supporting pillars 1) smile therapy, 2) the
laugh, love, lift-up element, and 3) the firm belief that these are
normal kids with extraordinary lives. After all, Michigan ranks fifth
in the US for the number of yearly pediatric cancer diagnoses, which
amounts to more than 380 children in Michigan diagnosed with cancer
every year. And this camp exists to do something about that – to
let these kids be kids again.
Camp Quality Michigan, then, is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization that relies almost entirely on donations, as well as some grants and fund-raisers, to help kids aged 4 to 18 who are battling cancer, undergoing treatment, or in remission. It is a nationwide phenomenon with 16 camps in 13 states, two of those in Michigan, held the same week in mid-July every year. Kids and their families are welcome to travel from other states to attend a camp. Camp Quality even engages in recruiting efforts at local hospitals to make people aware of this opportunity.
One of the venues for Camp Quality Michigan and 65 kids is the YMCA Camp Copneconic in Fenton, Michigan, known as South Camp (July 14-19). Dubbed "the best Michigan YMCA camp for summer," Camp Copneconic is a 700-acre facility that has been providing a place for fun, excitement, and learning since 1915. It is "a year-round camp and retreat center" that "offers the best variety of programs that tailor to groups of many sizes and purposes," which include the opportunity to "enjoy the serenity that radiates from every corner of our beautiful lake-front location."
Camp Quality Michigan also has
a North Camp (July 29-August 4) located near Luther, Michigan, at Camp Living Waters.
Typically, North Camp has about 45 campers every year. And there is
an awesome teen camp at beautiful Beaver Island.
The goal is to provide a summer-camp experience that breaks down the barriers these young people face and restores the childhood experience. For example, the week-long summer camp aims to offer fun, excitement, and rewarding experiences with a different theme each year, such as Western, Circus, Hawaiian, and Space.
This year, the kids get to
embark on the adventure and excitement of a Safari theme, which has
for a tag line "Lions and Tigers and Campers, Oh My!" The
whole camp will be decorated around the theme, and all the companions
(more about them in a minute) will decorate all the rooms
theme-appropriately. Groups of campers will be named Lions, Tigers,
Hippos, Elephants, Giraffes, Zebras, Rhinos, or Wildebeest. They will
all get safari hats to wear and will accumulate buttons awarded for
each activity participated in to attach to the hats.
In addition, campers earn
points in contests throughout the week, and at the end of the week,
the winning team is served dinner on stage by their companion. This
on-stage dinner includes three tables covered with red table clothes,
at which the winning team members are seated and where their
companions serve and waits on them clad in a waiter's hat and
apron. The companions take their orders and serve food and special
treats, all of which makes the kids feel special.
This contest and dinner –
dubbed "Winner, Winner, Serve me Dinner" – captures the
spirit of Camp Quality Michigan. These kids going through the trials
of battling cancer are able to be competitive and have some
light-hearted fun, all while being made to feel special. It's just
another of the ways camp staff let kids with cancer be kids again.
Camp Quality Michigan also involves the entire family and reaches far beyond the camp itself. Every year, for example, the kids and their families are taken to a Detroit Tigers game. In addition, there is an annual reunion for campers and their families. And there is now a sibling camp. All of this is just part of the effort to provide year-round programs to enhance their quality of life and encourage family time."
What Happens at Camp
But just what goes on during
the week at Camp Quality Michigan? A lot, actually. Here's just a
smattering of what the kids get to participate in and enjoy . . .
Arts and Crafts
Basketball, football, and soccer
And there are the golf-cart rides for the kids with limited mobility so that no one is left out. Also, let's not forget the talent show
where each child gets the
chance to showcase for everyone else what he or she can do. This is a
huge confidence builder for these struggling kids.
In addition, this year the
kids will have the chance to custom tie dye their own keepsake
donated by Dan Weaver
and Wholesale for Everyone. The 150 donated white bandanas will
be used for one of the arts and crafts activities. The kids will get
to tie dye their white bandana in whatever way suits them. So they
get to create their own memento of their experience at Camp Quality
Michigan – to be kept as a souvenir, worn as a head covering, or
Safety and Personalized Care
Letting kids with cancer be
kids again also means keeping them supervised and safe and furnished
with the requisite personalized care. To this end, Camp Quality
Michigan uses "companions." An adult companion accompanies
each and every one of the 65 kids throughout the course of the
week-long camp. And there is always a doctor on call, as well as
several nurses on staff and readily available all week long.
Companions are with their designated child all the time and even sleep in the cabins with them. So no child is ever unattended.
But the companions aren't just baby
sitters or oversee-ers. No, it runs much deeper than that.
Companions form strong,
long-lasting bonds with the kids they spend the week with, becoming
both friends and mentors. They stay in touch with the kids and their
families long after – often for years – the week of camp has
Although many companions are
students in the medical field at Wayne State University, still, each
companion candidate has to undergo a rigorous background check and
participate in extensive training. The process goes like this . . .
Completion of application
Submission of shot records
A full day's training
A Driving Force at Camp
In preparing to write this article about Camp Quality Michigan, we contacted Debra Simpson, Program Coordinator, who graciously answered our questions and helped us understand the spirit of the camp and what it means. Really, Debra epitomizes what Camp Quality Michigan is all about and the people who give their time to these special kids.
Debra is no stranger to cancer
herself. In 2009, she was diagnosed with the disease – but she beat
it. As a cancer survivor, Debra knew she wanted to get involved in
the cancer cause in some way. She worked at a middle school, had
always loved children, and her sons had been involved in the Boy
Scouts. So after much prayer and looking around, it was only natural
– perhaps Providential – that she would find and get involved
with Camp Quality Michigan.
After finding Camp Quality
Michigan, Debra started off as golf-cart driver, helping kids get
around and enjoy the camp experience. It wasn't long though, as her
involvement and commitment deepened, till she move up to Program
One thing we know for sure
from our interview: her enthusiasm for the cause is boundless and
The Magic That Happens
There's a lot of magic that
happens at Camp Quality Michigan. Just listen to what one former
camper had to say . . .
"My four years at CQ were
four of the best summers I have ever had. I often think back to those
times at camp and smile. . . . CQ holds a special place in the hearts
of so many survivors and our families and will for years to come . .
. that alone brings a smile to my face and a warm feeling to my
Or consider the words of a
Camp Quality volunteer . . .
"Camp Quality is truly
amazing and it changes the lives of everyone involved FOREVER!! The
children at this camp are without doubt the most inspiring people I
have ever met."
And here's something from the parent of a camper . . .
son had an AWESOME 2nd year at camp. . . . it is really the only
thing he looks forward to all year long. He has been able to make so
many new friends. After hearing about his week, I want to thank you
for pairing him up with, what I feel, was a PERFECT companion. Not
only did he do things he would NEVER do (like mountain biking) he and
his companion did that and much more! You chose a great cabin to put
them in-they had a riot!!
also climbed the rock wall, something he is afraid of but with the
encouragement from his companion and the other campers/companions, he
did it and he was really proud of himself. He is not one for heights,
never has been, but he climbed that wall - maybe the high ropes next
year! Thank you for providing my son with a wonderful week! He really
looks forward to seeing everyone and Camp Quality has really changed
my son in so many ways.
Quality provided him the opportunity to have fun acting and being a
kid. My son is looking forward to transitioning from a camper to a
companion, that goes to show you how much he respects CQ and how he
wants to stay a part of this wonderful family."
Debra related to us how
some kids at camp grow up with the desire to serve in turn with this
example . . .
A little girl at the school
where she worked was diagnosed with cancer while in the 7th
grade. Debra told her about the camp, and she decided to attend. The
girl attended Camp Quality Michigan – and went back every year
throughout school. And she has now become a companion, serving in
this role for the past three years.
A Chance to Do Your Part
Why should you get involved
with or donate to Camp Quality Michigan? Because it matters to these
kids and gives them a better life. Here's how the folks at Camp
Quality put it: "We are very grateful for your belief in our
mission of 'Letting kids with cancer be kids again.' Your generosity
makes it possible for us to continue to offer quality year-round
programming to these children with cancer and their families."
Really, it's hard to find
anything more important than that, especially for these kids.
And the sole means of support
is "contributions from individuals, corporations, service
organizations and foundations. Each and every donation directly
benefits the children that participate in our programs every year."
To donate, go here.