Name of Entry:
Expanding The Reach of Camp Wapiyapi
What Should the Voters Know?:
Camp Wapiyapi allows children facing pediatric cancer the chance to just “just be kids again.” Through week-long camp sessions, patients and siblings ages 6 to 17 savor summer days with others who cherish them just as they are. Whatever cancer has done to their bodies or whatever developmental disabilities they now face, campers find support amongst others who understand – at no charge to their families.
Described by the children as “The Best Week of the Year,” Camp Wapiyapi provides the joy of summer camp which so many are unable to experience in a traditional residential setting. Campers enjoy outdoor adventures including the ropes course, archery, and swimming, as well as many favored Wapiyapi traditions such as the disco dance and talent show. While they make friends, s’mores, and lasting memories, they learn just how truly resilient they are.
Wapiyapi is unique in prioritizing the needs of the siblings the same as the patients. Our organization also serves a wide range of children’s ages compared to other camps that require children to be 8 or even 10 years old. Knowing their kids are safe and supported by a 100%-volunteer medical staff and compassionate counselors (“companions”), parents facing their worst fears and stressors daily are able to take respite which strengthens healing for the whole family.
While the pandemic forced our immune-compromised population online, an incredible week of wonder, interaction, fun, and sense of community came alive at "Camp Wapiyapi: Beyond The Screen 2021." We kicked off the fun with deliveries of Camp Packs from a medical student, nurse, or other member of the community (wearing masks after proof of their COVID vaccination). The socially-distanced hello and hand-picked goodies went a long way in letting the children know they were not forgotten!
Though our campers logged in daily from the safety of their homes, Camp Wapiyapi still took them on incredible adventures around the world! With shark tours in South Africa, a magical Harry Potter tour of London, and an animal expedition in California, a different daily theme set the stage for a variety of activities both online and away from the screen. A consistent, core group of adult leaders shared Wapiyapi spirit and encouragement throughout the week.
Our friends at Children’s Hospital Colorado also participated - pediatric oncology nurses shared beekeeping onsite at a farm, while a pathologist led a ‘live’ tour of the lab and what kinds of fascinating discoveries are made there. A creative arts therapist shared mindful yoga and a personal greeting was arranged from Denver Broncos’ Dalton Risner. Whether visited by Paralympian and childhood cancer survivor Lacey Henderson or enjoying a scavenger hunt with Elsa from Frozen, campers never knew who might pop in to say hello, be a part of an event, or read the evening’s story.
This adaptation allowed us to expand the reach, relevance, and impact of this vital camp experience. Children for whom attendance is challenging or impossible can now join the camp community even outside of the physical elements of camp. “They were at Camp Wapiyapi while in the chemo room,” shared Dr. Meg Macy, a pediatric oncologist at Children’s Hospital Colorado.
Wapiyapi is extremely grateful to all who made camp so special and helped these children thrive during a chaotic and disrupted time. Playing and laughing with others who understand and accept them not only has a profound impact on their development, but on the overall health and healing of their families as well.