Kay’s Kamp gives a normal summer to kids with cancer

Colin Tjaden, 10 of Wilmington, shows the clock he decorated during arts and crafts period at Kay’s Kamp at St. Andrew’s School near Middletown. The camp’s mission is to provide children ages 5-17 currently battling cancer and those now in remission the opportunity to participate in a unique camping experience that promotes fun and normalcy. (Delaware State News photo by Dave Chambers)

Colin Tjaden, 10 of Wilmington, shows the clock he decorated during arts and crafts period at Kay’s Kamp at St. Andrew’s School near Middletown. The camp’s mission is to provide children ages 5-17 currently battling cancer and those now in remission the opportunity to participate in a unique camping experience that promotes fun and normalcy. (Delaware State News photo by Dave Chambers)

MIDDLETOWN – It’s a place where youngsters undergoing cancer treatment or in remission can feel like a normal kid again.

It’s called Kay’s Kamp, a week-long sleep-away camp in Middletown that’s been helping youngsters for the past six years.

“When we’re here we can just leave everything behind and we don’t even talk about what was wrong with us. We just have fun,” said Colin Tjaden, 10, of Wilmington.

Colin has been afflicted with leukemia but has now been in remission for two years.

“It’s like none of us ever even had cancer,” he said.

This year is Colin’s second year at the camp founded in 2009 by the Warren family. It was named in honor of Kaylyn Warren, who was diagnosed with leukemia at the age of 17. She died in March 2007, two months before her 19th birthday.

It was Kaylyn’s dream to run a bed and breakfast, but after her diagnosis she changed her goal to supporting kids with cancer.

The Kaylyn Elaine Warren Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization, established in June 2007 after Kaylyn’s death, formed the foundation for the camp to get started.

Kay’s Kamp began in 2009 at St. Joseph Industrial School in Clayton with 11 campers. It then moved to St. Andrew’s School in Middletown and now brings in more than 50 campers ages six to 17.

Kay’s Kamp camper Lilly Plocharz, 8, of Wilmington, above, sings during the music period as Aliciana Hayward, 9, of Dover, dances to the tune.  At left, counselor Mark Miller assists camper Dan Ogram, 17, of Aston, Pa., during the archery period.

Kay’s Kamp camper Lilly Plocharz, 8, of Wilmington, above, sings during the music period as Aliciana Hayward, 9, of Dover, dances to the tune.
At left, counselor Mark Miller assists camper Dan Ogram, 17, of Aston, Pa., during the archery period.

“It’s awesome to see the camp grow and now that I’m older, I like to make sure all the new, little kids are really enjoying themselves,” Pearce Queseneery, 17, said.

She has attended the camp since it first opened.

Every day the campers, split into cabins by age and gender, have five activity sessions and one special activity.

The activity sessions include archery, arts and crafts, canoeing, fishing, music, photography, science and sports and games.

On Wednesday morning, Colin and his cabin were working on arts and crafts, decorating clocks to take home and hang up. Earlier in the week, he built and painted a small wooden castle.

“Arts and crafts are fun, but the best part about camp is meeting all the new people every year,” Colin said. This is his second summer at the camp.

Other campers couldn’t pick their favorite aspect of camp.

“I don’t have a favorite part because it’s camp and all of it is the best part,” said Jonathan Malmstrom, 15, of Smyrna.

He was diagnosed with Langerhans cell histiocytosis –– a disorder that causes excess production of immune cells that produces tumors –– when he was only a toddler. He has been in remission for several years.

Jonathan has been to the camp each summer since its founding.

He was practicing archery Wednesday morning, headed up by Mark Miller, an archer with 22 years experience.

“It can be a challenge at first because the kids are nervous to try something they’ve never done before,” Mr. Miller said. “But soon, they see their friends picking it up and hitting the targets. So the kids who were nervous start to get a little excited and want to try it out.”

Although archery seems dangerous, Mr. Miller said it’s one of the safest sports as long as the proper safety precautions are taken.

Before using a bow, the campers learn whistle commands that indicate when they may pick up their bows, when

Kay’s Kamp counselor Mark Miller assists camper Dan Ogram, 17, of Aston, Pa., during his archery period.

Rusty Garrison, 13 of Vineland, N.J. gets a high-five after an amazing game of kickball Wednesday at Kay’s Kamp held at St. Andrew’s School.

they may shoot and when it’s safe to pick up their arrows.

Mr. Miller, like all the councilors, doctors and nurses, is a volunteer. A nurse is assigned to three campers. Those campers with higher care needs have a nurse with them all day.

“Most of the nurses have oncology experience and all of them have worked in pediatrics,” said Dr. Louis Bartoshesky, medical director at the camp.

Dr. Bartoshesky has been a part of Kay’s Kamp since the beginning. When the Warrens were looking for a medical director, he was the chairman of pediatrics at Christiana Care, the facility where Kaylyn received treatment. He happily volunteered.

The other doctors and nurses come from hospitals such as Christiana Care and Neumors A.I. duPont Hospital for Children. The camp has a pediatric oncologist from A.I. duPont on call 24/7 for emergencies.

About half the campers are in remission. But the other half are still in treatment and that makes the medical support very important.

The on-site infirmary where the kids receive treatment is called The Zoo, not hospital or doctor’s office.

“Our nurses and doctors are called zookeepers,” said Lisa Romano, media coordinator for the camp. “We are still very attentive to each child’s needs but we want to keep it a fun and relaxed environment. They shouldn’t feel like they’re going to the hospital.”

Dr. Bartoshesky said even with some of the kids going through treatment the atmosphere remains light with campers on a first-name basis with doctors and nurses. To the campers, Dr. Bartoshesky is simply known as Dr. Louis.

Kay’s Kamp counselor Mark Miller assists camper Dan Ogram, 17, of Aston, Pa., during his archery period.

Kay’s Kamp counselor Mark Miller assists camper Dan Ogram, 17, of Aston, Pa., during his archery period.

“This is something the kids look forward to all year,” Ms. Romano said. “And for them the scariest part is the final doctors appointment before camp, because they need to be given the all-clear.”

She said this year about 10 of the campers had to cancel at the last minute because they weren’t well enough.

“It’s great to see how the camp affects the kids undergoing treatment,” Ms. Romano said. “Some of them might arrive feeling kind of low and dragging their feet, but once they get into the activities and meeting the other kids you can see this new light in them. They’re happy and get to be normal kids.”

It isn’t just the activities and friendships that keep the kids coming back year after year –– each year has a different theme chosen from campers’ submissions.

“Each year, they get to draw a design for a theme they want and after the camp ends, the organizers go through the submissions and pick the one they like the most,” said Brenda Penhollow, a volunteer at Kay’s Kamp.

After the theme is chosen, the organizers who meet monthly find a way to integrate the theme into camp and have the accompanying drawing printed on next year’s t-shirts.

This year’s theme is “Once Upon a Time” and campers really embraced the theme. In girls’ music classes, the campers were dressed as princesses, all wearing bejeweled tiaras and some even donning tutus. They did bring a modern twist, though, singing along to Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off.”

Every day has a mini-theme playing off the main theme and this year’s daily themes include adventure, Camelot, classic tales, Happily Ever After, imagination and nursery rhymes.

Each of the mini-themes inspire a special event. Wednesday’s classic tales set the stage for an afternoon Mad Hatter’s Tea Party based on “Alice in Wonderland.”

The tea party was attended by most the campers and hosted by some of the councilors and directors, all in full costume and character.

Most of the councilors have direct ties to the Warren family. They include Kaylyn’s best friends from high school, family friends and her nurse, Mary Ellen McKnight.

“It’s really a family affair,” Ms. Penhollow said. “Those who initially were drawn to pitch in for the camp knew either Kaylyn or her family well and now they’ve brought their own families into it. We have brothers and sisters that are councilors and some of the directors have kids that are now volunteers.”

Ms. Penhollow said some of the long-time campers like Pearce and Jonathan will eventually get involved in organizing and leading the Kamp.

“In 2020, Pearce will be old enough to work here and she’s expressed interest. So, hopefully, as the campers get older, that’s the direction that we can start moving in,” she said. “Those who have been impacted by the camp helping others have this great experience.”

Even with a roster of more than 50 kids, and nearly as many councilors, nurses and doctors, the week-long camp is kept free for each camper by way of year-round fundraising efforts through The Kaylyn Elaine Warren Foundation.

The foundation organizes events such as galas, 5Ks and golf outings. Money is also raised through donations from individuals and businesses. Donations can be made online at kewf.org.

Reach staff writer Ashton Brown at abrown@newszap.com. Follow @AshtonReports on Twitter.

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