It's a beautiful summer evening, and a group of kids and volunteers have gathered for a skit night. Giggles ring out often as the campers watch their friends perform silly routines.
This scene is a common one at any children's summer camp. But Camp Quality Northern Ontario, located about an hour away from Sudbury, on the west arm of Lake Nipissing in Monetville, isn't a typical camp.
The week-long residential program provides a chance for children aged three to 18 who have experienced cancer to put their illness behind them and concentrate on having fun.
One of this summer's 65 campers, 14-year-old Alicia (Northern Life was asked not to reveal campers' last names) said she considers Camp Quality “the best place ever.”
When Alicia was little, she was diagnosed with a brain tumour. Despite two operations, she still has a brain tumour, and is blind in one eye.
She said she likes everything about Camp Quality, but especially the fact that she's able to be with people who have also experienced cancer.
“It just means I'm not alone in what I'm going through and I meet people who are like me and have their own problems,” Alicia said.
Dan McLean, director of Camp Quality Northern Ontario, said the camp goes all out to provide the kids with great experiences.
During the week-long program, they do everything from regular camp activities such as arts and crafts, swimming and boating to more exotic activities such as rides in float planes and limousines.
For those still undergoing cancer treatments, a team of pediatric oncology nurses is on hand to tend to campers' medical needs.
“What Camp Quality provides to the kids is a chance to get away from their regular lives, get away from their treatments, and just be kids again,” McLean said.
“It lets them develop friends who are like them, who have had the same kinds of experiences living with cancer, as well as to provide their families with some relaxation.”
The camp is provided free of charge to families, and is funded through private donations, fundraisers and contributions from service clubs.
Because cancer affects entire families, the children are allowed to bring each of their siblings along with them at least once, McLean said.
Unlike the usual summer camp model, which sees councillors look after groups of children, Camp Quality matches an adult volunteer, known as a “companion,” with each camper.
“All of our companions get in touch with their campers in advance of the camp week,” McLean said. “We'll start to build that relationship so that they feel comfortable when they get to Camp Quality.”
Beyond the summer camp, Camp Quality also organizes reunions throughout the year, and campers and companions keep in touch and often visit, he said.
Lakehead University student Matt Campbell, 19, was a first-time volunteer at Camp Quality this summer. As a “super companion,” instead of being matched with an individual camper, he “spread himself out” and took on all the campers.
The Orillia, Ont. resident said he's amazed by the campers.
“It's just incredible to see eight-year-olds that are 25 or 30, just because of what they've gone through and how they mature,” Campbell said.
Fourteen-year-old Josh is a Camp Quality veteran. Diagnosed with leukemia at the age of three, he's been attending the camp for the past 10 years. He said he plans to volunteer at Camp Quality when he gets a little older.
“I actually love coming here,” Josh said. “This is a big part of my childhood.”
Although he doesn't remember much about his experiences with leukemia anymore, Josh said he appreciates being able to meet other cancer survivors at camp.
“I guess when you are talking to other people about when you went through treatment or something, they don't really understand really what you went through,” he said.
“It's just a lot easier to talk with people understand you.”
To learn more about Camp Quality Northern Ontario, or to donate, visit www.campquality.com.