By Marney Carmichael
Care Camps, a non-profit that helps children with cancer find hope and healing in nature with 135 oncology camps across North America, is appealing to the outdoor industry and its enthusiasts for support after what has been called an emotional and devastating year for the organization and the kids they serve.
These medically supervised outdoor camps normally see about 35,000 campers annually, but COVID-19 drastically impacted the 2020 camping season. Its three main fundraisers were cancelled, leading to a huge budget shortfall, and the camps had to change everything about how they serve the kids, forcing them to go virtual and create innovative programs that they could mail out. Then, on September 12, Camp Okizu, one of its leading oncology camps in California, was destroyed in a forest fire. It had been in existence for 40 years.
“It’s been a challenging, emotional year,” said Jennifer Mercer, Director of Development, the weight of it evident in her voice. “Losing all our key fundraisers at the same time was financially devastating, but the camps knew they had no choice but to go on: the kids needed connection and belonging more than ever. Bringing the camps to the kids at home has been a learning curve. It’s meant a new way of counselling with new technologies, added expenses and mailing costs.”
While at camp kids would normally fish, hike, swim, go boating or even ride ziplines. They find their smiles again and build confidence through friendships with fellow campers and counsellors, many of whom have had cancer themselves. Bringing the camp experience to kids in their homes was not so easy and, as Mercer explained, camps still have operating expenses.
One way that camps were able to create an interactive experience was sending kids a ‘Camp in a Box’ and pairing it with a virtual experience. It was mailed out to campers and included such items as bow and arrow sets, scavenger hunts and digital cameras. They used these items to find creative ways to get the kids outdoors and engage. Campers were able to connect to each other and with camp counsellors and talk about their struggles and challenges, not only with facing cancer but now in a pandemic. Most importantly, camps were able to bring back the smiles to kids who desperately needed some joy.
Care Camps was first founded by KOA campground owners who recognized the need for kids with cancer to get together. Each year, hundreds of campgrounds, owned by KOA and others, hold fundraisers for the camps. The majority of them this year were cancelled and the non-profit has seen a dramatic reduction in donations, especially in Canada. (While KOA covers the organization’s administration fees, the camps themselves operate via charitable donations and fundraising campaigns.)
One way to help Care Camps is via corporate sponsorship. For RV, marine and car dealers there are five different sponsorship levels available, along with the ability to custom-make sponsor benefits packages for larger manufacturers and other types of businesses. “We try to create giving campaigns with benefits to make this a win-win relationship,” explained Mercer.
“There are thousands of kids out there who desperately need our support to find joy and hope in the midst of the worst time of their lives. We are hoping to build new partnerships in the RV, boating and outdoor industry amongst consumers, dealers and manufacturers. The losses our camps have faced this year are staggering, and we need the entire outdoor industry to rally for these kids,” said Mercer. “Perhaps some individuals or businesses that have done well in the face of COVID now have means to donate,” she added.
KOA Care Camps of Canada is a registered Canadian charity; donations are tax deductible. For a list of camp locations see: https://koacarecamps.org/camps-we-support/
To learn more about Care Camps or donate now, visit: www.carecamps.org You are welcome to reach out to discuss donations and sponsorship opportunities with Jennifer Mercer, Director of Development, at (406) 671-0447 or via email: firstname.lastname@example.org