A break from reality

Savanna Winnie is a 10-year-old leukemia patient from Lanoka Harbor, but at Camp No Worries deep in the woods of Tabernacle, she was just a kid for a week.

“I love this camp,” she animatedly said from her perch on a golf cart as she left her arts and crafts table and headed for the pool on Tuesday, June 26.

This year was her fourth trip to the camp, she explained. At first, she was afraid to attend, but soon realized that all of the other kids were just like her.

They were in it together for the fight against cancer.

While cancer brought the campers together, it was not the focus of the non-profit camp, according to camp director Chris Callanan.

“We don’t really focus too much on the topic of cancer,” he said of the camp that ran this year from June 24 to June 30. “We don’t have sessions completely for learning on the subject.”

The camp, instead, is an outlet for the youngsters to blow off steam, engage in fun games and hang out at the pool.

“I think it’s a good way for them to release their energy and, like we say, have no worries for a week,” said Callanan.

Held on the grounds of Camp Inawendiwin off of Powell Place Road, founder and cancer survivor Kasey Massa explained that it costs $800 per camper for the organization to run the camp for a week when three meals, accommodations, vendors and rent for the facilities are factored in.

Area foundations provide gift cards for gas costs, and Shamong and Medford are among local towns whose organizations and schools host fundraisers to raise money for the week.

The camp is hosted under the umbrella of the YMCA of Burlington and Camden Counties.

All camp staff attends on a completely volunteer basis.

“A lot of our staff is friends of friends,” said Callanan. “At this point, we’d like to say that we’re just a big family.”

The staff volunteers out of the “love of their hearts,” he said, to “give back to these kids that are sick.”

This year was the 18th year the camp was run, said assistant director Mike O’Donnell. There were 86 campers in attendance compared to 14 in its inaugural year.

Savanna’s friend and fellow leukemia patient from Lanoka Harbor, Julia Pawlak, 11, was at the camp for the first time.

She enjoyed the archery portion the most, she said.

Nearby, at an arts and crafts table, 10-year-old James Scaife of Woodstown, who is also suffering from leukemia, was playing with beads.

Later, he said, “I’m going to do the swimming test.”

It would be his first time in the deep end of a pool.

As part of the test, he explained, he would have to float and swim up and back.

Savanna, Julia and James were part of the “middle” age group.

The youngest campers range in age from six to nine. The middles are 10 to 12 years old, and the older campers are 13 to 16.

“We actually run the gauntlet in terms that there are a couple kids that are on treatment and they are going through the whole process,” said Callanan, while others, he explained, are in remission, siblings of cancer patients and bereaved siblings who lost a brother or sister to cancer.

“I think it’s a very therapeutic time for the kids,” he said. “Not only are we all connected through the topic of cancer but they have a chance to relate to each other in terms of what they’re going through.”

A 24/7 medical staff of nurses, a head nurse and a camp doctor through Virtua Hospital in Voorhees were on site.

“We consider ourselves the oncology camp in South Jersey,” said Callanan. “We actually treat really the whole South Jersey region.”

Patients learn of the camp through area hospitals and clinics and fill out an application to attend on the YMCA website or by calling the Y.

For those campers who attend more than once, the staff tries to keep the content fresh by creating a different theme each year.

“We try to keep the kids interested and do different things throughout the week so that it’s not the same old thing,” he said.

This year, the campers traveled to another time period each day, from the ‘80s for some tie-dye and dancing to medieval times.

The Camden Aquarium was to stop in for a nature program, while the Philadelphia Zoo planned to bring animals.

“We keep it fun,” he said.

During ‘80s day, Savanna made a record cover during arts and crafts, her favorite part of the camp.

“When you see the kids faces and the things they get out of the program, it’s amazing,” Callanan expressed.

When Massa founded the camp, she was hoping to provide a comfortable environment during the summertime to get away from treatments and hospitals.

While first-timers tend to be anxious upon arrival, Callanan said, “by the end of the week, they’re the ones that are running around and have the biggest smiles on their faces.”

Camp Inawendiwin is located at 71 Powell Place Road in Tabernacle. Learn more about the camp or make a donation at www.campnoworries.org or call (856) 234-6200.