While summer camp holds just about everything a child could want – fun, games, new friendships, arts and crafts – Care Camps directors know that children living with cancer need more, and not just more in the way of safety and medical attention. Their experiences with cancer have left wounds on their hearts that need healing every bit as much as their sick bodies. At Camp HIS KIDS, based in Highland, Illinois. Camp staff foster healing with a day-long event that includes fun and team building, but ends in a deeply emotional ceremony.
On Wednesday during the weeklong camp, camp counselors lead their teams on The Quest – an elaborate series of activities modeled after a scavenger hunt. Teams learn to work together on games and projects that range from physical to creative challenges. Each activity is rich with symbolism, said Jayme Bellamy, camp director, and every activity is designed to give the children an opportunity to learn about themselves – their strengths and limitations.
The day ends in The Lagoon, a tent elaborately decorated and bathed in low light. Each child is given a small wooden “wishing boat” and Jayme reads the “Legend of the Lost Lagoon” a story she wrote about two Shawnee Indian children who hoped to heal the broken hearts of their tribe after a storm wiped out their village.
Legend of the Lost Lagoon
One by one, the children go up to a pool and light a candle on their boat and make a wish as they release the boat.
They can share their wish or keep it a secret, but Jayme and the staff are always touched when they share. They wish for a cure for cancer. They wish they didn’t have cancer. They wish for friends at school, for restoration of their parents strained relationships. And like any child they have regular wishes too – for puppies and ponies and the latest video games.
Particularly touching are the wishes children with cancer have for others. And since Camp HIS KIDS is open to siblings of kids with cancer, they are often overheard wishing for a brother or sister’s healing.
“It’s pretty emotional to see all the candle lit boats out on the water,” said Jayme.
If a former camper dies, their siblings are invited back, and for them, camp, and all the memories it holds, is often very emotional. The day after The Quest, siblings who have lost a brother or sister to cancer are invited back to The Lagoon, and in a joyful memorial they release a flower onto the pool.
They often wish to have their brother or sister back, but camp counselors – many of whom are cancer survivors – share with them ways to keep their beloved sibling alive in their memories and in their hearts.
As supporters of KOA Care Camps, you are also helping children heal from the emotional wounds left by cancer, and we thank you for assisting the good work at Camp HIS KIDS and all the rest of KOA’s Care Camps.