25 Years and Counting: A Camp Experience Like No Other

December 01, 2016

Archery is part of the experience at Camp Esperanza.

With archery , zip lining, swimming and canoeing, Camp John Marc is meant to be fun. Kids can also find it deeply meaningful.

Campers said they had a blast at their week-long camps in the Texas hill country – and often found themselves talking to other kids who could understand what they had been through.

The camp, which just celebrated its 25th year, hosts patients from Children’s Health and other North Texas children’s hospitals in an environment built around the kids’ unique circumstances and staffed with people and volunteers trained to take care of them.

The camp is impressive immediately upon entrance. There’s a huge ropes course specially built for campers of all abilities, including kids in wheelchairs. A tour of the facility by executive director Kevin Randles reveals even more amenities to help young patients with a great variety of needs. There’s a zero-entry pool for kids with spina bifida and a loading platform of the perfect height for kids, even kids with physical challenges, to mount one of the camp’s 14 horses.

The camp medical building is more like a mini hospital with eight medical beds, equipment for chemotherapy and dialysis, and doctors from Children’s Health and other facilities on staff around the clock.

“Counselors are terr ific. They mentor us; they teach us. We are family to them.” – John Owens

Some of the camp’s 1,000 volunteers were once campers themselves, and the kids know they are with counselors and others who understand what they are going through.

“Counselors are terrific. They mentor us; they teach us. We are family to them,” said 15-year-old oncology camper John Owens of Dallas. Other campers said they found people who can empathize with them among their peers.

Archery is part of the experience at Camp Esperanza.

“I like meeting kids I can relate to. Everyone knows what I am talking about,” said 11-year- old oncology camper Julia Brown of Frisco. She said one day small talk in the pool turned into a conversation she could never have with kids at school – what it’s like to go through chemotherapy.

“We were just talking about it, just hanging out,” she said.

Jennifer Rodolph, whose daughter attended the camp, said she heard kids talking among themselves about medical issues on the bus to camp before they even left.

The 170-acre facility has 11 specific summer camps and 29 weekend-camping programs over the course of the year for patients with cancer, hemophilia, severe asthma and other chronic illnesses. More than 1,300 kids attend in the summer with around 3,000 campers and their families being served during the year. Campers attend at no cost to their families and are supported by donations from individuals, companies and foundations, as well as significant gifts from generous benefactors of the partnering hospitals.

The camp’s executive director said he knows how much the campers get out of the experience because he attended the camp when he was a leukemia patient as a child. He watched campers canoeing on a small pond and said, “That was me 25 years ago. It’s a neat dynamic to see all those things come full circle.”


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