Welcome to Camp Mak-A-Dream: Where Camp Is Part of the Cure

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Camp Mak-A-Dream is part of KOA’s Care Camp Network — a system of 52 independent camps that provide a free week of summer camp to children dealing with cancer. Learn more about how this incredible place — and you — can be a part of their cure.

About an hour east of Missoula, Montana nestled on the edge of the snowcapped Garnet Range in the Rocky Mountains, sits an odd assortment of zip lines, ropes courses and communal cabins. It’s also heaven on Earth each year to more than 500 children with cancer.

Welcome to Camp Mak-A-Dream.

Now beginning its 19th year, Camp Mak-A-Dream is part of Kampgrounds of America’s Care Camp Network — a system of 52 independent camps that provide a free week of summer camp to children dealing with cancer, as well as their siblings. They’re one of the camps you’ll be helping when you stay at KOA over Care Camps Big Weekend in May. You stay Friday, May 10, 2013 as a paying guest and Saturday, May 11 is Free — plus, funds raised during this weekend help send children with cancer to KOA Care Camps across North America.

“We see ourselves as serving a population that is underserved,” said Jennifer Benton, the camp’s director of Marketing and Special Events. “We hold 10 one-week sessions each year. In total, we have hosted more than 6,000 children.”

The kids, who come from all over North America, get to experience a week of summer camp with other children facing the same fears and social challenges. The campers are medically supervised while at Camp Mak-A-Dream, and many are able to continue cancer treatments right at the camp.

“It’s so much more than just their physical health,” said Benton. “Social skills and interactions with other kids their age are often very challenging. So camp is a lot more than just the fun. It’s about building back skills and confidence, and helping them build relationships for the rest of their lives.”

Here, the campers leave the difficulties of life behind.

“The camp sits on 87 acres in a place called Goldcreek, Montana,” said Benton. “We’ve got five residential cabins, a fully accessible swimming pool and even a zip line that can handle kids in wheel chairs.”

There’s everything you’d find at a “regular” summer camp — an archery course, horseback riding, mini golf, an art studio, arts and crafts and an aerial ropes course.

It’s easy to lose yourself in the laughter of this place. But look a bit closer, and you’ll see beautiful teenage girls with just stubble where golden locks should be, and boys learning to run with artificial legs.

But it’s not the personal challenges these kids face that make this place so different.

“It was nice to be around people who know what you’ve been through and don’t treat you any differently,” said a young camper named Victoria. “For one week, I didn’t have to be brave all of the time.”

The purpose of all 52 KOA Care Camps in North America is to “keep reality at bay,” for at least one week for these special children. Camp Mak-A-Dream does a wonderful job.

But at night, reality creeps back in — however slightly — when the medical staff provides overnight, on-site treatments for those actively fighting their cancers.

“It’s like a mini hospital, actually,” says Wendy Winger, an RN and official “camp nurse” since 1997. “Camp is an extreme confidence builder. If you send your child out here, they come back as a different child. And I know that can’t happen unless there’s a great medical staff.”

In fact, doctors and nurses work as part of the 20-40 camp volunteers for each weekly session.

A week at any KOA Care Camp doesn’t come cheap. While the camps are absolutely free to the children and their families, they depend on donations from KOA campers.

Last year, more than $500,000 was distributed to aid the camps in their efforts. This year, the goal is $1 million.

There are many ways campers can help. Join us for Care Camps Big Weekend, May 10-11, 2013. Stay as a paying guest on Friday at participating KOAs and Saturday night is FREE. Funds raised during this weekend help send children with cancer to KOA Care Camps across North America. Click here to learn more.

In addition, while making your next online KOA reservations at KOA.com, watch for the request for a KOA Care Camps donation, which can quickly be added to your transaction.

There are also handy Care Camps donation collection boxes at every KOA campground. Or just go to www.KOA.com and click on the “Donate To Care Camps” button.

Please give today to share the joys of camping with these special children. Become a part of their cure.