Alberta Cancer Foundation

Holiday Treatment: Camp Kindle is a respite for kids coping with cancer

Little hikers trudge up the hill, avoiding, as best they can, tree branches threatening to swipe across their faces. Off the path, light quickly fades and they imagine dangers lying among the forest shadows. In single file, weary and distracted, they try to avoid stumbling on jutting rocks and exposed tree roots. Then, with relief, they top the hill and see below them the pond and buildings of their camp, Camp Kindle, securely nestled in this valley of the foothills.

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Camp Kindle (emphasis on “kin” as in family) is a major project of the Kids Cancer Care Foundation of Alberta (KCC). Each year, thanks largely to corporate and individual donations, more than 450 Alberta kids who have been affected by cancer have the opportunity to enjoy nature and the playful companionship of other kids (and adults) who understand the value of respite, retreat and the need for fun. Each camping session includes 80 children and, counting staff and volunteers, almost as many adults under the leadership of camp program manager Jordan Miller.

“The camp is open to children with cancer and their siblings,” says Mike MacKay, director of Camp and Community programs. “But we also offer family camps and teen camps in the fall and spring. This year, we’re offering our first week-long summer family camp and, in 2010, we started offering a new camp program, called SunHaven, to children who have a parent with cancer. During the shoulder seasons we rent the camp to outside groups, like schools and bands.”

Surrounded by hills, the Rocky Mountains in the distance, nature does its work, calming and quieting, even in the exuberance of play.

The camp is situated in the Rocky Mountain foothills about 80 kilometres northwest of Calgary near Water Valley. KCC purchased the 160-acre Silver Creek Guest Ranch for $2.1 million. For two years KCC used the original ranch buildings, but, with the success of an $8-million Capital Campaign, Camp Kindle has re-invented itself. Now featuring a modern medical facility and improved wheelchair accessibility, Camp Kindle still retains its rustic camp charm. The new facilities are open year round and, to generate funds, are available to private groups and corporations for recreation and corporate events.

Two new dorms provide six bedrooms on two levels. “Each dorm has four bathrooms that maintain the integrity and privacy of campers,” says MacKay. “That’s so important to children and teenagers.” The new dining hall and lodge, with its open-beam design and floor-to-ceiling rock fireplace, are material expressions of the values of openness and trust the KCC foundation encourages.

The environment is not the least of Camp Kindle’s assets. Here, surrounded by hills, the Rocky Mountains in the distance, kids and parents let nature do its work, calming and quieting, even in the exuberance of games and play. Both children and adults often experience quiet moments when trust settles in and, perhaps while walking with a companion, they can express the anxieties that, until now, they have not permitted themselves to release.

From the medical centre and nursing station a team of four qualified nurses handles all medication needs, including administering oral chemo and hydration products. KCC works closely with the Alberta Children’s Hospital and the Stollery Children’s Hospital to ensure the medical safety of the campers. All facilities are wheelchair accessible.

Camp catering manager, Dacia Lashmore, wife of maintenance manager Kris, provides home-style meals ranging from a simple grilled-cheese sandwich for lunch to a full roast beef meal for supper, Yorkshire pudding included. On a lucky day, she’ll bring out her heart-shaped Kindle cookies as a treat.

Just for the fun of it, Camp Kindle now includes a new activity centre, an outdoor swimming pool and hot tub, a climbing wall and a high ropes course. Each morning (after dorm cleanup) kids can try archery, swimming, high and low rope climbing, hiking, mountain biking, arts and crafts, drama and music in the music hall. Occasionally volunteers offer their expertise, enabling kids to experience photography, yoga and other special interests. The site also includes a ball diamond and soccer field. For adventurous teenagers, the Sun Seeker Cabin (no power or water) a kilometre away is the base for rock climbing and hiking. At night around the campfire, campers participate in songs and skits.

A week culminates in Friday’s theme activities, a formal dinner, and Camp Awards. “Everyone gets an award because,” MacKay says, “kids hold the camp in high regard. And there are almost no violations of the three simple rules: Respect yourself, respect others, respect the environment.” A dance follows, DJ duties performed by DJ Fish Productions, a childhood cancer survivor. Like DJ Fish, other Camp Alumni, encouraged by the leadership programs, are giving back to the community through public speaking, fundraising or as role models for young campers.

For Mike MacKay, communicating and connecting are essential to the spirit of Camp Kindle. He sums up the Camp Kindle experience by explaining, “Cancer brought us together, but it’s not going to hold us back.”