When a cancer diagnosis comes to a child, in a lot of ways, childhood stops. Vacations, family time, crafts, and campfires are replaced with doctor visits, chemo, isolation and restrictions. With children’s safety and medical needs in the forefront, Camp Quality Greater Kansas City breaks down those barriers for children and families and restores the childhood experience. Surrounded by new friends that can relate, loving volunteers who care, and loads of fun experiences, Camp Quality campers find joy, courage and renewed hope for the future. They are free to be themselves . . . free to be kids again.
Camp Quality is a national organization that hosts week-long overnight summer camps at 18 locations across 13 states. Camp Quality “Kansas-Missouri United” was launched in 2018 by Kansas, Northwest Missouri, Greater Kansas City, Central Missouri and Missouri Ozarks camps to provide additional activities, support and networking opportunities to all children and their families from Kansas and Missouri impacted by childhood cancer.
Greater Kansas City summer camp is hosted at Lake Maurer Retreat Center in Excelsior Springs, MO annually with this year being July 26-31 for campers. The camp hosts approximately 85 campers between ages 4-17 years old, each of whom is paired one-to-one with a companion volunteer responsible for the safety and enjoyment of the camper.
Nearly 80% of their campers have a diagnosis of cancer or a rare blood disorder, and the other 20% of campers are the siblings of diagnosed children. It is important to include siblings for a variety of reasons. The entire family is impacted significantly from the moment a child receives diagnosis and it is important to recogonize that.
Camp Quality is primarily volunteer driven with very few paid employees. The majority of employees have come with regionalization which is certainly worth the investment to be able to have someone dedicated full-time, giving full attention to management, development and programming.
Each local camp has their own Camp Organizing Committee (COC), which essentially operates like a board. The COC consists of 8-10 volunteers who meet monthly to manage a local camp. They plan program operations and participate in initiatives and programs for the region as well. The majority of volunteers are utilized during the week of summer camp where everyone stays on site 24/7. Companion volunteers are paired one-to-one with a camper, work as a lifeguard, photographer, dorm parent, program staff, or medical staff. There are also junior staff volunteers who range from 16-17 years old. In total, it usually takes at least 125 volunteers to make the week of camp possible.
Other volunteers serve for a particular activity, event, or day at camp rather than committing to an entire week. To volunteer for summer camp, there is an online application available at campqualityusa.org. Volunteers must be current on vaccinations, will be asked to complete a background and reference check, as well as, take part in an interview and in-person training.
Executive Director Crystal Davison explains how she started with the organization, “I got involved with Camp Quality in 2005 when I graduated from the University of Central Missouri with a degree in nursing. A friend from high school contacted me because one of the news channels advertised the need for companion volunteers. I signed up to be a companion and was assigned to a camper named Drew. Drew was 8 years old at the time. Before that came to fruition, I was transitioned to a camp nurse, which was fitting since I had just graduated and passed my boards and was officially a RN! That first summer changed my life. I got to meet Drew and so many other incredible kids just like him. Volunteering is a rewarding experience and it is incredible to experience the reward in the form of smiles, joy, hope, friendship, and more. Camp Quality is an experience like no other—where the kids equally impact the volunteers, they teach volunteers about life and how to live it. Kids taught me to be a better me.”
All of the Camp Quality events and programs are at no cost to campers and families which is why they thrive on donations and community support. They also offer Mom’s Night Out and Father’s Night Out events to ensure parents get time to enjoy as well. Parents are encouraged to enjoy time out with other parents who can truly understand the home situation while living through having a child with cancer.
Camp Quality tries to rotate programs throughout the Greater KC area to allow different opportunities and experiences for family participation. As far as Lee’s Summit partners, Paradise Park has been paramount in the success of the “Every Day A Hero” program. This annual program is offered not just for families already affiliated with Camp Quality but also to newly diagnosed families and bereaved families. Providing an opportunity for others to connect and network outside of the hospital and clinic setting even if they have not yet participated in other Camp Quality programs.
Camp Quality Greater Kansas City is not in the business of finding a cure for cancer, but we are in the business of ensuring 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 quality family time. As a non-profit, Camp Quality funding is all donation and event based. Look for ways to contribute and get involved at CampQualityUSA.org/GKC.