A courageous nine year old has been fighting
cancer now for 2 years. His head is completely bald from chemotherapy but on his face is a
as well as several large globs of whipping cream. He hasnt
thought once about his battle with cancer in the last hour -- his life is consumed with
the whipped cream fight he is in. Actually, he hasnt thought much about cancer all
week. He just hasnt had time. Hes just been having too much fun.
This young child and his entire family have been spending a week at
Camp Agape Northwest, a very unique summer camp for kids with cancer and their families,
located at All Saints Center near the town of Gig Harbor, Washington.
A BRIEF HISTORY
Combining the vision of Fr. John Bakus with the financial support of
the Philoptochos Society,
a womens service organization within the Greek Orthodox church, Camp Agapes
roots go back to 1989 when summer camp opportunities for children with cancer began in the
San Francisco area. The idea spread north to the Philoptochos Society in Portland, Oregon
in 1995. After a very successful Kids n Cancer camp there, Bishop Anthony
proclaimed that all diocesan churches that had access to outdoor camping facilities and
active Philoptochos Chapters should consider doing something for children with cancer.
Soon plans began to emerge for more Kids n Cancer summer camps. They were
renamed Camp Agape followed by the area where the camp is located. Adding to
already operating Camp Agape Portland and Camp Agape Fresno, an effort was jointly
undertaken by the three Greek Orthodox parishes in Seattle and Tacoma, and Camp Agape
Northwest held its first camp in the summer of 1997. Agape (pronounced aw-gaw-pay),
is a Greek word for love also used in Christianity, which refers to the type of
love God has for humankind, Love given without conditions, without anything being asked or
expected in return.
A CAMP LIKE NO OTHER
When cancer invades a childs life it profoundly affects
the life of the entire family. The stress placed on a marriage is tremendous. The
emotional needs of healthy siblings can often take a back seat to the needs of their sick
brother or sister. That is precisely why from the outset Camp Agape was designed as a
haven for the entire family and is one of the main things that sets this camp apart from
other camps for kids with cancer. High school and college age volunteers, trained
especially to work with Camp Agape kids, spend the majority of their time one-on-one with
their young campers, both those battling cancer and equally with their brothers and
sisters. Children with cancer are treated like regular kids and those who have felt
forgotten or neglected because their sibling has cancer are showered with agape
love and attention, too. Parents have the time and opportunity, often a rarity outside
this special week, to sit and chat with other parents, do a craft project just for their
own enjoyment, or even simply take a much needed nap.
"Camp Agape is about having fun," says Peggy Tramountanas,
"and laughter is the best medicine". It was Tramountanas who initially led the
efforts to organize the western Washington camp and she has twice been the annual
chairwoman of this tri-parish labor-of-love.
"Camp is open to all people," she explains. "It is
provided free of charge for the children with cancer and their families. You do not have
to go to our church to attend the camp or even go to church at all. We include some
wonderful spiritual activities and there are always people to talk to, but never,"
she says with emphasis, "any pressure."
Still, the priests of the three Greek Orthodox parishes are
frequently present during the week and many family members have enjoyed and appreciated
the opportunities to talk with them. On any given day it would not be surprising to find
one of the priests joining in on a sing-along with all the campers, sharing conversation
with parents over morning coffee, or even having his face painted with bright primary
colors for one of the days activities.
"Our camp is unique," Tramountanas explains, "because
the whole family attends. All the kids in the family come, have fun, and forget about
cancer for a while. One night during the week we even take the parents out for a nice
dinner. For many of (the parents) its the first time theyve been out together
without their kids since their child was diagnosed."
Families can come to Camp Agape for two years and many
children and adults stay in touch throughout the year. They enjoy very special reunions on
their return the second year connecting again with those friends they made the summer
before. These are children who understand each others hardships like no one else is
able to. Here are other parents who suffer the same hopes, fears, and extraordinary
challenges of marriage, parenting, and everyday life that having a child with cancer
brings with it. Close bonds are quickly established. And understanding is found in ample
and loving supply.
Medical staff are in residence at the camp every day around the
clock. Many of the children attend while they are in the midst of their cancer treatment,
so trained nurses are on-site in a special medical cabin to administer each childs
necessary medicine. Nurses in the church community volunteer their time and over the years
have reached out to other nurses and doctors. One child, whose treatment required
administration at the hospital, was even flown in and out of Camp free of charge by Angel Flight Samaritans.
Each day of Camp Agape is surrounded with a theme, be it Rodeo
Day, the Olympic Games , the 50s (complete with classic cars and a very unique
performance of the musical stage extravaganza Agape Grease), County Fair Day,
Western Roundup Day, Polynesian Day, and the ever-popular Greek Day.
All Saints Center, where Camp Agape Northwest is held, also
has many watersports activities available and campers of all ages and physical abilities
spend hours swimming, canoeing, splashing, and playing in the water.
"There is no way to really fully describe what goes on at
Camp," says Jeff Greer, who with his wife Deb have been Camp Agapes
co-directors every year since its inception. "You really have to be (there)."
Jeff and Deb Greer from Missoula, Montana, are uniquely qualified to
lead the weeks many and varied activities. Jeff is an ordained minister with a
degree in clinical counseling. Both have been deeply involved for years in the Young Life
program of ministry and fellowship with adolescents. They not only have been the directors
since Camp Agape opened its doors, but each summer they bring with them 10-15 volunteers.
More than that, the Greers have walked their share of miles in the shoes of those they are
leading for six days at camp. In 1991 their son Jason, at the age of 12, was diagnosed
with bone cancer. They moved to Seattle and lived at Ronald McDonald House while Jason
underwent treatment at Childrens Hospital.
Now a vibrant 22 years old, Jason works as a counselor at Camp and
his brother is the camp photographer. "I was thrown into the same world as these
kids," Jason says. "Its great for me to be able to come back here and
offer the perspective of someone who has been through it before and is still here to talk
|Children at Camp Agape
get one-on-one attention from their counselors.
The Greers have found that Camp impacts the lives of their
campers in a powerful way that nothing else can. "We had a boy from camp whose cancer
relapsed. He said that if he could have just one more wish, it would be to go to Camp
Agape one more time." Parents who have children faced with cancer have also found the
it a safe and supportive place to deal with the deep spiritual and emotional issues that
arise. "Because this is a church sponsored camp, it makes it much easier, much more
comfortable for people to talk about God, although there is never any pressure,"
Jeff believes that one of the most amazing things about Camp Agape
is the way that giving service to others impacts the camps many volunteers.
"Encourage people to go somewhere a little uncomfortable and give of themselves in an
altruistic way," he says, "and it is very powerful."
|Parents, children, and
volunteer staff combine in a one-of-kind production of Agape Grease.
The sense of love and community that flourishes at Camp Agape
is what most profoundly affects campers and volunteers alike. "When people give of
themselves and dont expect anything in return, says Deb, "it changes things. I
cant imagine a summer without Camp Agape...it is the most rewarding thing in our
A GREAT IDEA THAT NEEDS TO FLOURISH
Renee Phillips was an adult volunteer in 1997, the very first Camp
Agape Northwest. "She came home and began telling me about what an incredible
experience the camp had been for her," says her husband, Tom. "I think she
talked about it pretty much non-stop for a month." Renee was so enthusiastic that
Tom, a business executive, became involved as a volunteer the following year.
What Tom Phillips both observed and experienced was that having the
entire family at camp produced a unique result that other camps in which only the
sick child attended could not duplicate.
"I saw the entire family cared for. The kids in the family who
werent sick didnt feel left out -- they had a great time too. And because each
child had a one-on-one counselor the parents had this incredible opportunity to
|Dancing the Limbo on
Someone else was taking care of their kids, helping them have
a fabulous time. For once, the parents could really, truly relax. Then when the week of
camp was over it was a family adventure that they all would have in common and they could
laugh, remember and treasure the memories together.
Providing a week of summer camp for kids with cancer is a great
idea, but certainly not a new one. But the unique concept of including the entire family
is one that Phillips really believes other groups around the country need to learn about
and strongly consider incorporating into their existing camps. He intends to find the
people, the informational and instructional materials, and the funding to bring the
"family camp" concept to groups around the country.
"More people, lots more, need to know about this and get
involved," Phillips enthuses. "I hope this story will help."
Tom, so do we!
**If you are interested in knowing more about Camp Agape Northwest,
you can email Jeff and Deb Greer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Email Peggy Tramountanas at email@example.com.
You can contact Tom Phillips at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reiman is co-founder and editor-in-chief of Incredible People
Magazine. He would love to hear your feedback at Mark@IncrediblePeople.com. Or visit our staff
page at http://www.incrediblepeople.com/staff.htm