2 camps available for Mid-Columbia kids with cancer

By Geoff Folsom, Tri-City HeraldJanuary 27, 2014 

Mid-Columbia children dealing with cancer will have their choice of two summer camps this year.

Camp Goodtimes East, which has operated since 1985, will move to a site at Camp Reed, north of Spokane, for its annual camp in August.

A new venture, Camp Journey, will open at the same time at Ross Point Baptist Camp in Post Falls, Idaho.

The split happened when the American Cancer Society decided last year to pull funding for camp programs nationwide in order to focus on cancer research.

The cancer society transferred Camp Goodtimes operations -- and its remaining funds -- to a group of agencies headed by the YMCA of the Inland Northwest.

A group of Camp Goodtimes volunteers wanted to keep the camp at its former location at Ross Point Baptist Camp. When the cancer society turned down their request, they formed their own organization -- Camp Journey.

"When we did not get picked, we had parents, volunteers and medical staff come to us concerned about changing our location," said Camp Journey director Kari Allen, a former Camp Goodtimes director.

Some people were worried that 600-acre Camp Reed is too large and has rougher terrain, which could make the weeklong camp tougher on some kids who are in more serious stages of cancer, Allen said. That was a reason Camp Goodtimes moved to Ross Point from Camp Reed, where it had been from 1985 to 2005.

"It will be two different camps," Allen said. "By no means did we do it in a hateful way."

But Jerid Keefer, regional coordinator for Coaches vs. Cancer, which raises money for Camp Goodtimes, said Camp Reed can accommodate kids at any stage of cancer.

"At the end of the day, Camp Goodtimes started at Camp Reed," he said. "Camp Goodtimes is just going home."

Both camps will operate Aug. 3-9. The camps are offered free to children with cancer, and will continue to be open to Tri-City residents.

The simultaneous scheduling is because of a miscommunication, Allen said. It's Camp Goodtimes' traditional week, but Camp Journey officials thought the new Camp Goodtimes would be in June.

Camp Journey is looking for just over $100,000 to operate this year, Allen said. It has around $20,000 now and looks to bring in another $45,000 at its Sweetheart's Ball fundraiser. The group plans to keep many of the volunteers, medical staff and campers who attended Camp Goodtimes in the past.

"We're getting a lot of calls and local support, so we don't have a lot of concern," she said.

Camp Goodtimes had 139 campers and 85 volunteers in 2013, with six of each coming from the Mid-Columbia.

Camp Journey will be able to accommodate up to 140 campers in 2014, Allen said.

The new Camp Goodtimes will have room for up to 200 kids at Camp Reed.

Most of the counselors and other staff at Camp Journey will be unpaid volunteers, though it will use some paid Ross Point employees to work as swimming lifeguards and to help in areas like the ropes course, Allen said.

Campers won't have to be Baptists to attend Camp Journey, although the faith-based camp will operate it.

"Absolutely not -- just like you don't have to be a YMCA member to go to Camp Reed," she said.

The American Cancer Society went through an extensive review before naming an operator of Camp Goodtimes and transferring its funds, Keefer said. The new Camp Goodtimes has the backing of agencies including Ronald McDonald House, Providence Healthcare and Cancer Care Northwest, along with Coaches vs. Cancer and the YMCA.

"I feel like it presents the best opportunity for sustainability," Keefer said.

The American Cancer Society felt the group led by the YMCA offered the most "meaningful experience to help improve the quality of life" for campers at Camp Goodtimes East, spokeswoman Kimberly Dinsdale said in an email.

"We wish to ensure that throughout this transition there is minimal disruption to the many children who have and will continue to attend this program," she said.

Camp Goodtimes West, which the American Cancer Society had operated on Vashon Island in Puget Sound, will be operated by a newly formed nonprofit, according to the camp's website.

For information on donating or having children attend Camp Journey, contact Allen at 509-863-7379.

Call Lisa Vogt at 509-720-5630 for information on Camp Goodtimes at Camp Reed.

-- Geoff Folsom: 509-582-1543; gfolsom@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @GeoffFolsom

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