Staying indoors, wearing hospital gowns, walking on cold floors, this is not the summer vacation most children wish for, but for many kids fighting cancer, sadly, it is a reality. Offering an escape from the world of medicine, where kids can just be kids is Camp No Worries in Southern New Jersey.
"Camp No Worries" was a dream of Kasey Massa’s when she was just 11-years-old, fighting cancer. In 1986, Massa says her summer was being destroyed by doctor visits and medical scans, ending with a diagnosis of a malignant brain tumor.
Like all kids, Massa was anxiously awaiting the end of the school year to make the transition into summer fun, but now her and her family had to fight the physical and emotional diagnosis of cancer.
“Summer plans of vacation at the beach, swimming with friends, riding bikes and water-sking on the lake, became plans of cutting my long dark hair, shaving it bald and going to surgery to save my life” Massa says.
And so at the young age of 19, Massa, whose byline reads, “Survivor,” organized a group of volunteers and teamed up with the YMCA and Camp Inawendiwin an established camp ground site in Tabernacle, New Jersey, to offer her dream not only to children with cancer but also to their healthy brothers and sisters.
“It is very important for the children, patients and siblings, to do things together since they are often separated throughout the year during treatment and hospitalizations,” Massa tells FoxNews.com.
"'Camp No Worries' is some place you go where you do not have to worry about anything. You can be care free about who you are and just be yourself, " camper Tiffany Teufel , 15, who attends camp with her 12-year old sister, who is fighting cancer tells Foxnews.com.
Her wish was for a positive place where kids were told what they could do as opposed to everything they could not because they were sick. Massa says she wanted a place where troubles were forgotten, everyone understood what each other was going through, and people didn’t stare at you or see you as different.
All campers are treated the same throughout the week, except during the Survivor/Special Supporter lunch, where each child, and volunteer receives a Camp No Worries plaque inscribed with the same title as Massa, “Survivor,” or “Special Supporter,” for the helpers. “It's a big celebration of the important role everyone plays in the cancer journey,” Massa says.
Host to 86 happy campers this summer, daily activities include swimming, arts and crafts, landsports, & archery. And Special to the teenagers are FLAG (fight like a girl) and Wilderness adventure.
"Camp No Worries" accepts all applicants as long as they are medically cleared by their physician and are able to supply a physical exam form, immunization records, and copy of their insurance card. And there are always 5 oncology nurses and/or nurse practitioners on-site at all times as well as on-call physicians.
“Our reality was made possible by parents and medical staff who believed their children and patients needed this type of break and trusted that we would keep their children safe and happy if only for one week each summer,” Massa says.
Solely a volunteer organization, funding comes from individual donations, small grants, and community support. Other support comes from a staff-run bowl-athon, school coin collections, and two families whose children went through the camp created an annual fundraising event.
This year’s lucky campers are traveling to the Phillies game at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, PA , made possible by the Phillies organization.
Calling her staff role models, Massa tells Foxnews.com “We have a dedicated group of individuals and we now have children that were once campers, in leadership positions, which is amazing for me to see!”
Parents are often giving up control for the first time since their child was diagnosed, depending on a group of strangers to take care of the physical, emotional, and medical needs of their loved one. The camp takes on a huge responsibility offering an environment of trust.
“They give us their greatest gift in life and we strive to return them in better shape than when they left. We hope they return with more confidence, more support and a feeling of childhood fun.”
Massa says the last day of camp often brings a lot of emotions and comments like, "Camp should be 2 weeks", and "Camp should be all summer long".
Teufel’s sister, Brittany says, "'Camp No Worries' is like a second family to me. My favorite part of camp is making new friends and being around the people I really care about".
Families are invited to a brunch and closing ceremony where each child is given a copy of the now bonded group’s photo and special certificate for something that is personal to what they did at camp.
“There are lots of tears when parents reunite with their children and when we all say our good-byes,” Massa says.
The unfortunate aspect of working with children with cancer is that not all of them conquer this horrible disease, and so as Camp No Worries celebrates survivorship, so do they honor those lost along the way with a Memorial ceremony.
And so, "Camp No Worries' says it includes bereaved siblings each year as well. “It is the unanimous belief of "Camp No Worries", The Board of Directors, and our Leadership Team, that if a sibling experiences the loss of his/her brother or sister, he/she should not lose his/her camp experience as well.”
To volunteer, donate, or attend "Camp No Worries" go to www.campnoworries.org/