Camp Quality Michigan is not your typical summer camp.
Summer camp . . . some of us have fond memories that include campfires and marshmallows, fishing and swimming, making special friends, and just having some carefree fun. For others of us, summer camp brings painful recollections of being away from home surrounded by strangers and mosquitoes.
For most of us, though, the experience falls somewhere in the middle.
But for the kids who attend Camp Quality Michigan, the camp experience is a whole lot more than just some outdoor activities for week – providing help in dealing with the physical and emotional challenges they face when battling cancer.
This camp is designed to ensure that “every child who has been diagnosed with cancer can not only have a summer camp experience, but year-round programs to enhance their quality of life and encourage family time.”
Camp Quality Michigan has only one overarching goal: “Letting kids with cancer be kids again.”
What Is Camp Quality Michigan?
Camp Quality Michigan provides, to say the least, something unique when it comes to the camp experience.
For it has as its three supporting pillars 1) smile therapy, 2) the laugh, love, lift-up element, and 3) the firm belief that these are normal kids with extraordinary lives.
After all, Michigan ranks fifth in the US for the number of yearly pediatric cancer diagnoses, which amounts to more than 380 children in Michigan diagnosed with cancer every year. And Camp Quality Michigan exists to do something about that – to let these kids be kids again.
Camp Quality Michigan, then, is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization that relies almost entirely on donations, as well as some grants and fund-raisers, to help kids aged 4 to 18 who are battling cancer, undergoing treatment, or in remission.
It is a nationwide phenomenon with 16 camps in 13 states, two of those in Michigan, held the same week in mid-July every year. Kids and their families are welcome to travel from other states to attend a camp. Camp Quality Michigan even engages in recruiting efforts at local hospitals to make people aware of this opportunity.
One of the venues for Camp Quality Michigan and 65 kids is the YMCA Camp Copneconic in Fenton, Michigan, known as South Camp (July 14-19).
Dubbed “the best Michigan YMCA camp for summer,” Camp Copneconic is a 700-acre facility that has been providing a place for fun, excitement, and learning since 1915. It is “a year-round camp and retreat center” that “offers the best variety of programs that tailor to groups of many sizes and purposes,” which include the opportunity to “enjoy the serenity that radiates from every corner of our beautiful lake-front location.”
Camp Quality Michigan also has a North Camp (July 29-August 4) located near Luther, Michigan, at Camp Living Waters. Typically, North Camp has about 45 campers every year. And there is an awesome teen camp at beautiful Beaver Island.
The goal of Camp Quality Michigan is to provide a summer camp experience that breaks down the barriers these young people face and restores the childhood experience.
For example, the week-long summer camp aims to offer fun, excitement, and rewarding experiences with a different theme each year, such as Western, Circus, Hawaiian, and Space. Last year, it was a “Shipwrecked’ theme.
This year, the kids get to embark on the adventure and excitement of a Safari theme, which has for a tag line “Lions and Tigers and Campers, Oh My!”
The whole camp will be decorated around the theme, and all the companions (more about them in a minute) will decorate all the rooms theme-appropriately. Groups of campers will be named Lions, Tigers, Hippos, Elephants, Giraffes, Zebras, Rhinos, or Wildebeest. They will all get safari hats to wear and will accumulate buttons awarded for each activity participated in to attach to the hats.
In addition, campers earn points in contests throughout the week, and at the end of the week, the winning team is served dinner on stage by their companion.
This on-stage dinner includes three tables covered with red table cloths, at which the winning team members are seated and where their companions serve and wait on them clad in a waiter’s hat and apron. The companions take their orders and serve food and special treats, all of which makes the kids feel special.
This contest and dinner – dubbed “Winner, Winner, Serve me Dinner” – captures the spirit of Camp Quality Michigan. These kids going through the trials of battling cancer are able to be competitive and have some light-hearted fun, all while being made to feel special.
It’s just another of the ways camp staff let kids with cancer be kids again.
Camp Quality Michigan also involves the entire family and reaches far beyond the camp itself.
Every year, for example, the kids and their families are taken to a Detroit Tigers game. In addition, there is an annual reunion for campers and their families. And there is now a sibling camp.
All of this is just part of the effort to provide year-round programs to enhance their quality of life and encourage family time.
What Happens at Camp Quality Michigan?
But just what goes on during the week at Camp Quality Michigan? A lot, actually. Here’s just a smattering of what the kids get to participate in and enjoy…
- Zip lines
- Camp fires
- Arts and Crafts
- Disc golf
- Aqua jump
- Giant Swing
- Paddle boards
- Climbing tower
- Human foosball
- Ultimate frisbee
- Basketball, football, and soccer
And there are the golf-cart rides for the kids with limited mobility so that no one is left out. Also, let’s not forget the talent show
where each child gets the chance to showcase for everyone else what he or she can do. This is a huge confidence builder for these struggling kids.
In addition, this year the kids will have the chance to custom tie dye their own keepsake bandanas donated by Dan Weaver and Wholesale for Everyone.
The 150 donated white bandanas will be used for one of the arts and crafts activities. The kids will get to tie-dye their white bandana in whatever way suits them. So they get to create their own memento of their experience at Camp Quality Michigan – to be kept as a souvenir, worn as a head covering, or both.
Safety and Personalized Care
Letting kids with cancer be kids again also means keeping them supervised and safe and furnished with the requisite personalized care.
To this end, Camp Quality Michigan uses “companions.” An adult companion accompanies each and every one of the 65 kids throughout the course of the week-long camp. And there is always a doctor on call, as well as several nurses on staff and readily available all week long.
Companions are with their designated child all the time and even sleep in the cabins with them. So no child is ever unattended.
But the companions aren’t just baby sitters or oversee-ers. No, it runs much deeper than that.
Companions form strong, long-lasting bonds with the kids they spend the week with, becoming both friends and mentors. They stay in touch with the kids and their families long after – often for years – the week of camp has ended.
Although many companions are students in the medical field at Wayne State University, still, each companion candidate has to undergo a rigorous background check and participate in extensive training. The process goes like this . . .
- Completion of application
- Successful interview
- Submission of shot records
- Background check
- A full day’s training
A Driving Force at Camp Quality Michigan
In preparing to write this article about Camp Quality Michigan, we contacted Debra Simpson, Program Coordinator, who graciously answered our questions and helped us understand the spirit of the camp and what it means. Really, Debra epitomizes what Camp Quality Michigan is all about and the people who give their time to these special kids.
Debra is no stranger to cancer herself. In 2009, she was diagnosed with the disease – but she beat it.
As a cancer survivor, Debra knew she wanted to get involved in the cancer cause in some way. She worked at a middle school, had always loved children, and her sons had been involved in the Boy Scouts. So after much prayer and looking around, it was only natural – perhaps Providential – that she would find and get involved with Camp Quality Michigan.
After finding Camp Quality Michigan, Debra started off as a golf-cart driver, helping kids get around and enjoy the camp experience. It wasn’t long though, as her involvement and commitment deepened, till she moves up to Program Coordinator.
One thing we know for sure from our interview: her enthusiasm for the cause is boundless and infectious.
The Magic That Happens
There’s a lot of magic that happens at Camp Quality Michigan. Just listen to what one former camper had to say . . .
“My four years at CQ were four of the best summers I have ever had. I often think back to those times at camp and smile. . . . CQ holds a special place in the hearts of so many survivors and our families and will for years to come . . . that alone brings a smile to my face and a warm feeling to my heart.”
Or consider the words of a Camp Quality volunteer…
“Camp Quality is truly amazing and it changes the lives of everyone involved FOREVER!! The children at this camp are without a doubt the most inspiring people I have ever met.”
And here’s something from the parent of a camper…
“My son had an AWESOME 2nd year at camp. . . . it is really the only thing he looks forward to all year long. He has been able to make so many new friends. After hearing about his week, I want to thank you for pairing him up with, what I feel, was a PERFECT companion. Not only did he do things he would NEVER do (like mountain biking) he and his companion did that and much more! You chose a great cabin to put them in-they had a riot!!
“He also climbed the rock wall, something he is afraid of, but with the encouragement from his companion and the other campers/companions, he did it and he was really proud of himself. He is not one for heights, never has been, but he climbed that wall – maybe the high ropes next year!
“Thank you for providing my son with a wonderful week! He really looks forward to seeing everyone and Camp Quality has really changed my son in so many ways.
“Camp Quality provided him the opportunity to have fun acting and being a kid. My son is looking forward to transitioning from a camper to a companion, that goes to show you how much he respects CQ and how he wants to stay a part of this wonderful family.”
Debra related to us how some kids at camp grow up with the desire to serve in turn with this example . . .
A little girl at the school where she worked was diagnosed with cancer while in the 7th grade. Debra told her about the camp, and she decided to attend. The girl attended Camp Quality Michigan – and went back every year throughout school. And she has now become a companion, serving in this role for the past three years.
A Chance to Do Your Part
Why should you get involved with or donate to Camp Quality Michigan? Because it matters to these kids and gives them a better life.
Here’s how the folks at Camp Quality put it: “We are very grateful for your belief in our mission of ‘Letting kids with cancer be kids again.’ Your generosity makes it possible for us to continue to offer quality year-round programming to these children with cancer and their families.”
Really, it’s hard to find anything more important than that, especially for these kids.
And the sole means of support is “contributions from individuals, corporations, service organizations and foundations. Each and every donation directly benefits the children that participate in our programs every year.”
To donate, go here.
If you’d like to get further involved with Camp Quality Michigan, you can organize a fundraising event and/or get access to the Fundraising Toolkit.