Volunteer Corner: Family camp respite for youths battling cancer

About 60 volunteers coordinated activities for 90 campers once again this summer at Camp Lawton on Mount Lemmon in the Santa Catalina Mountains north of Tucson.

A cancer diagnosis is probably the most terrifying news you can get just when your life is going the way you want, so imagine what it’s like for a youngster beginning to live and only wanting to be a kid. Tests, treatments with tubes, and trauma add to the nightmare for an innocent child, and obviously the family as well.

One of Green Valley-Sahuarita Volunteer Clearinghouse's partners, Candlelighters (Childhood Cancer Foundation of Southern Arizona), came up with a great plan to lend a hand way back in 1985 with its annual family camp on Mount Lemmon. It gives young victims and their families a weekend break from the long ordeal of battling the dreaded disease.

About 60 volunteers coordinated activities for 90 campers once again this summer at Camp Lawton, where kids got to play games, test skills, and build confidence while escaping the nightmare for just a little while.

“Volunteering at 8000 feet in the outdoors can have unique challenges,” said Beverley Tidwell, Candlelighters program director, “and I am very grateful and impressed by all the volunteer help who came to give these children and their families a respite from the rigors of treatment.”

Volunteers helped kids participate in arts and crafts, learn about nature and archery, tackle suspended rope challenges and a climbing wall, swim and hike, and just have fun meeting other kids. Moms enjoyed some relaxing spa-style treatments and maybe a well-deserved nap in the cool pine forest.

“We enjoyed connecting with other families,” many of the parents responded in the evaluations, “and the kids got to interact with other kids outside the hospital.”

“My kids got to be normal children again,” one parent declared.

About 70 children in Southern Arizona each year are diagnosed with cancer, Tidwell pointed out, with the average treatment of 2.5 years, many up to 4 years. It’s a tremendous emotional, physical and financial strain on patients and their families.

“This healing outdoor camp provides healthy family fun in the midst of this demanding medical nightmare,” Tidwell said. “Whether learning to navigate life with the loss of an eye or a new limb, children can be very resilient when given the opportunity to see themselves in a new light … being challenged by a whole new experience. The camp can provide some of the impetus to begin or continue the healing experience.”

Debi Shippy from Green Valley described her volunteer experience as “a beautiful green mountain camp with enthusiastic kids and families at play, and volunteers of all ages. I saw kids bravely trying new activities like crossing a rope bridge, experiencing such joy. What I didn’t see was pity, sadness, or a 'poor me' attitude. I left with an appreciation for the opportunity to be part of such a heartwarming experience, gratitude for my own health, and memories of a day well spent.”

Volunteer Beth Munson pointed out that “parents got to watch their kids be kids. It was very rewarding to see the smiles and hear the laughter.”

The camp is only one way Candlelighters provides unique empowerment and support to help families meet challenges.

Candlelighters provide programs and support free of charge to families with a child diagnosed with cancer or a blood disorder. They organize holiday parties and special events, including a special teen prom night. They educate, advocate, advise, and help find financial assistance. They set up support groups for parents and assist with school problems — virtually anything within their power to help these kids and their families.

You can volunteer through the Green Valley-Sahuarita Volunteer Clearinghouse's website or simply contact Candlelighters at info@candlelighteraz.org or call 520-777-4911 if you want more information.

What a way to make a difference in a child’s life.

Contact the Green Valley-Sahuarita Volunteer Clearinghouse at its website: gvsvolunteering.org