“There is no greater place in the world to let loose and be yourself.” While every camper’s experience is unique, their illness is the common bond that doesn’t need to be explained because campers (and many counselors too) can honestly say to each other, “I know how you feel.” Children and young adults who boarded the buses as cancer patients or cancer survivors will also be able to think of themselves as fishermen, artists, chefs, swimmers, tennis and basketball players and so much more.
Camp Coordinator and former Valerie Fund patient, Sierra, knows this first hand. "Camp is a unique experience for each camper. It may be the first time they are away from their parents, it may be the place where they get to be with friends who understand the cancer experience, or it can be a place where lifelong memories are made. For me, Camp Happy Times is all of that and more! Camp Happy Times has given me so much and for the past five years, I have paid it forward and helped give over 150 children per summer a week of memories and happy times!"
The camp's Assistant Director, Matthew Ruttler, said, "Camp is like no other. It is a time when campers can be kids again and not worry about anything. Staff are encouraged to let go and be kids as well. From funny songs to campfires, swimming and cooking, Camp Happy Times has it all!
Campers partake in many activities over the course of the week at Tyler Hill.
It all began in 1980, when a great friend of The Valerie Fund, Sy Frankel, saw TV footage from a sleep away camp in Michigan. The children at the camp all had cancer, yet despite their medical challenges, they were doing things that healthy kids do in the summer, albeit some with accommodations.
The joy and determination on their faces stayed with Sy. He wanted Valerie Fund patients to benefit from the same experiences and reached out to the camp director, a doctor more than 1,000 miles away. The first Camp Happy Times was located in Springdale, NJ and had 57 campers. Each year the program was grown, and has continued to be a life-changing experience for campers and staff alike.
This year, Camp Happy Times will take place Monday, August 14th to Sunday, August 20th. It will be a week of fun and activities for the 160 children and young adults that are expected to attend. Each year more than 100 volunteer counselors and staff bond with the campers as young as five and as old as 21, including the 19-21 year-olds participating in the camp’s Leaders-In-Training Program. Many counselors are former campers.
Camp Coordinator, Sierra, attended Camp Happy Times for eight summers. When looking back on her experience, Sierra said, "My first memory of Camp Happy Times was taking off my wig within an hour of getting off the bus my first year. This was the first time I ever felt comfortable enough to show my bald head during my first relapse of Leukemia. Camp Happy Times helped me to see that there were children just like me. At ten years old, camp was a place where I felt normal and loved just the way I was."
Enjoying a day of fun on the lake.
Millie Finkel, Volunteer Camp Director for three decades reflects on her return to camp each summer. “When people ask me how I can do this, I always say, “I’m not a doctor or a nurse and I can’t cure them but I can give the campers one hell of a week.”
Ruttler agrees. "Camp Happy Times introduced a whole new world of oncology camping to me and since then I have been able to give back to Camp Happy Times and several other camps around the country but Camp Happy Times will always hold a special place in my heart."
Camp Happy Times is a proud member of the International Children’s Oncology Camping Association and Tyler Hill is fully accredited by the American Camping Association. Children ages 5 -21 who have or have had cancer, regardless of where they are treated are invited to attend Camp Happy Times free of charge. Transportation, meals and activities are included and on-site 24 hour medical care is staffed by Valerie Fund doctors, nurses and members of the psychosocial team.
ABOUT THE VALERIE FUND: After their nine-year-old daughter Valerie succumbed to cancer in 1976, Sue and Ed Goldstein were determined that no family should have to travel great distances to receive state-of-the-art medical care. Today, more than 6,000 children with cancer and blood disorders benefit immeasurably by receiving their medical treatment close to home in a child-centered environment. The Valerie Fund ensures they do not have to rely on insurance reimbursements to receive a range of customized therapeutic services that enhance their quality of life. For more information, please visit www.thevaleriefund.org.