Neosho Camp Quality offers life to children with cancer

Thursday, July 22, 2010 | 4:37 p.m. CDT

NEOSHO — Camp Quality Director Dave Adams can remember a former camper picking out the music he wanted played at his funeral, but, in Adams' words, "nobody's dying here."

"These kids are living the way we all should be," Adams said.

Camp Quality, whose motto is "letting kids with cancer be kids again," caters to children 4 to 18 dealing with cancer. With a staff-to-camper ratio of approximately 3-to-1, Adams said he and his volunteers work to make the one week of camp just like any other with fishing, swimming, crafts and team sports.

Maisie Weston, who had a tumor on her left kidney, is in her seventh year at Camp Quality and has been in remission for 11 1/2 years.

"I like how we can be here, and if something is wrong with us, we don't get made fun of," she said. "Sometimes I get made fun of for one side of my body being smaller than the other."

At Camp Quality, doctors and nurses are kept on staff to deal with medical issues and have even taken IV drips out onto the softball field.

"I hate to say limitations because after 24 hours, you'll see these kids have none," Adams said.

The campers each have a volunteer staff companion, who makes sure they stay safe and have fun. Some campers keep the same companion for years.

Companions and camp staff are volunteers and include regular college students and Green Bay Packers player Allen Barbre and his wife. On Wednesday, he showed campers, Weston among them, how to remove hooks from the mouths of fish without injury to them, while his wife stood knee-deep in the pond with a net, looking for crawdads.

Many of the companions and volunteer camp staff, such as Camp Quality Treasurer Kristin Clark, are former campers.

Clark is in her 14th year at camp. As a child, she was diagnosed with leukemia, came to camp and now spends a week out of the year away from her bank manager job working at Camp Quality.

"In the training, they tell us to be role models for the kids, but they're our role models," she said. "Most of us take a week's vacation from work for this, and it's the best vacation."

Clark said it's good for campers to come each year and see people like her, who lived through cancer.

"Coming back to camp each year is the biggest blessing," she said.

Staff go through extensive training, not only in how to work with children at a camp, but on the special issues that surround cancer patients.

After years at Camp Quality as a companion, kitchen help, assistant camp director and director, Adams said he still remembers his initial reluctance to volunteer at all.

"We thought it was going to be depressing," he said. "About four hours after we got here, I realized that I would probably never miss a year."

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