It’s been called The Big C, but sometimes cancer happens to the smallest among us. Each year, tens of thousands of children in the United States are diagnosed with some form of cancer, sending their families into stressful emotional and financial times.
Luckily, there are organizations designed to help.
Kentucky-based Indian Summer Camp is one of them. Founded in 1981 between a group of volunteers and the Kentucky Cancer Program, Indian Summer Camp offers free recreational activities for children affected by cancer.
"There are many organizations out there for research and developing new medical treatments, but there was a lack of programs that affect the daily lives of kids with cancer," says Shelby Dehner, the nonprofit's executive director. "These kids want to have fun. They want to play. Cancer takes that away."
Dehner estimates that approximately two thousand children and families have benefitted from their various camps and events, which include a weeklong Oncology Camp, a day program for ages 4 to 6, a Teen Weekender camp, and a weekend Sibling Camp program. Expansion plans include a Family Camp.
All camps are offered free of charge, and Dehner proudly notes the organization has never turned a child away. The nonprofit keeps their costs low by being almost entirely volunteer based. Dehner is the first and only employee, brought on two years ago after 29 years of volunteer-only operation.
Indian Summer Camp receives no federal or state grant money and relies solely on contributions from individuals, foundations and corporations. Cox Media Group recently awarded the organization $30,000 of in-kind promotion and advertising. In February, the Lexington Tennis Club's charity tournament raised more than $10,000 for the organization.
“We’ve been very blessed by our donors and volunteers,” says Dehner.
Medical teams for the camps are staffed by volunteer doctors from the University of Kentucky and nurses from Kosair Children's Hospital. Many of these professional volunteers are the regular, year-round medical staff for the children, which means familiar faces for the children and relieved stress for worried parents.
Dehner estimates that 40 percent of volunteers are former camp attendees, a figure the organization is proud of.
"It shows you how much camp meant to them, that these cancer survivors want to give back," she says. "We don't do formal therapy but it happens informally. They have this bond with the campers that the rest of us don't understand."