Kay’s Kamp a legacy for kids with cancer

 

Kay’s Kamp makes a big splash this year with kids battling cancer. Kay’s Kamp is held at St. Andrews School in Middletown. (Special to the Delaware State News / Doug Curran)

MIDDLETOWN — It’s a safe place where all kids fit in.

Whether in remission or treatment, all the youngsters at Kay’s Kamp live with cancer to some degree.

The ninth annual summer sleepaway brings survivors together for a week, which ended Saturday.

Everyone can relate at host St. Andrew’s School next to scenic Noxontown Pond.

This year, over 50 campers ages 5 to 17 and 150 staff took part.

“For me I just want to be treated like everyone else,” said 17-year-old Smyrna resident Colby Atkins, diagnosed with T-cell leukemia in December 2013.

“My friends understand that but it takes some people longer to do that until they get to know me more.

“At first they just don’t know how to take me.”

After undergoing a bone marrow transplant in April 2014 and “hard chemotherapy” the Atkins youth now plans to attend the University of Delaware this fall and study sports management.

Kayden Curtis, age 17 of Middletown, gets a big hug from Ron Penhollow,operations director of Kay’s Kamp. (Special to the Delaware State News / Doug Curran)

“No matter how hard the journey will be, there’s always going to be light at the end of the road,” he said. “Hopefully I can smile all the time and make people happy.”

Near the end of week, the Atkins youth reflected on what he’s seen the past three summers at camp.

“Everyone really bonds and we all have a good time,” he said. “I can’t think of a time when they don’t enjoy it here. It’s great.”

Holding similar dreams is 16-year-old Orlando Blackson of Dover in two years. He loves the swimming and arts and crafts time at camp the most.

 

Orlando, who survived a Wilms tumor on his right kidney, now plans to study accounting at Delaware State University after graduating from Early College High School.

“It’s a warm feeling because you get to be around a lot of people who have gone through the same things as you,” he said when asked to describe the camp’s atmosphere.

Doctor in training Parth Thakkar, now in his third year on the camp staff, called it “the most important week of the year for me.”

Relating to the campers is a great way to develop a empathetic bedside manner, the second-year Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School attendee said.

“As a student I’m learning mostly about pathology and disease, but not so much about interaction with those you come into contact with when practicing medicine as you’ve been taught,” Mr. Thakkar said. “This is the reason I’m doing it.”

Said Camp Director Gretchen Loose, “The fact that each cabin has a nurse with them and medical staff with them all day allows the kids to feel safe.

Peyton Howell, age 13 of Dover, poses for a photo with Derek Chatham, program director for Kay’s Kamp. (Special to The Delaware State News / Doug Curran)

“It’s their safety blanket to know they’re going to have fun and at the same time be safe.”

The intention is noble but hardly free — according to Ms. Loose, the camp budge this year was “well over” $200,000. There’s a $1,000 cost per camper.

Dedicated supporters

Fundraisers throughout the year and a solid base of dedicated company backers keep the dream alive annually. Donations can be made online at kewf.org.

“The companies have been very generous in their donations,” she said. “It’s like any nonprofit that funds can drop off or dry up at any time.

“We’re at the mercy of the economy and how the businesses are doing.”

Delmarva Power provided a $5,000 grant this year for Natural Gas Division Construction Supervisor Christopher Wilson’s involvement with the Kaylyn Elaine Warren Foundation Kay’s Kamp. He earned a company community service award that helped provide Kay’s Kamp with services and supplies to support children’s medical needs.

“Chris is a shining example of how we all can make a difference in someone’s life by giving a little more whenever we can,” Delmarva Power Region President Gary Stockbridge said.

“Chris and all of the volunteers at Kay’s Kamp have display selflessness, kindness, heart and passion for each camper making it an enjoyable, memorable and exciting experience every summer.”

There’s no cost for any kid to attend.

A remembrance board is displayed at Kay’s Kamp at the St. Andrew’s School in Middletown. (Special to the Delaware State News / Doug Curran)

“We will never turn a child away,” Ms. Loose said. “We’ll make room, we’ll find funding. We always have room for children.”

The camp was dedicated to the memory of Kaylyn E. Warren, diagnosed with leukemia at age 17. As her health waned her dream became to run a summer camp for those suffering with childhood cancers.

“Kay knew first hand how cancer had stolen the normalcy of her young life,” according to an online tribute at kayskamp.org.

“Every child suffering from cancer is forced to mature before their time and must live a ‘new normal’ existence that is anything but ‘normal!’ When Kaylyn realized she would be unable to start the camp herself, she asked that her dreams and vision be fulfilled. …”

Friends, family and Kaylyn’s hospice nurse Mary Ellen McKnight established the Kaylyn Elaine Warren Foundation 501(c)(3) charity organization in 2007 to make her wish come true.

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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