Participants in Tour For Kids – Ontario, raise awareness and funding for extraordinary camp organizations that help children, adolescents and their families live with, and beyond, cancer. None of the camps receive government funding so they rely on private contributions to sustain their good work. Thanks to the pledges collected by Tour for Kids cyclists each year over $1.5 million is shared by the Ontario camps. Without our collective support, the camps programs would be severely compromised or discontinued. Each camp operates multiple locations staffed by health care professionals, volunteers and camp alumni. Thousands of children attend year-round programs that build confidence, courage and friendships in an environment rich with empathy and compassion – as well as measures of medical attention.
The single greatest miracle that these retreats provide is enabling children to escape the shadows of cancer treatment. It’s a time to enjoy the pleasures of being a regular kid. Children all too familiar with the rigors of doctor appointments, blood tests and arduous cancer treatments are welcomed to a world of sunshine, fresh air and fun. Activities are adaptive and inclusive so campers of all physical and mental abilities can participate. “The amazing thing about Camp is seeing kids who were in the hospital, sick and weak days before, now climbing rock walls, canoeing, laughing — and forgetting why they were in the hospital at all.” Quite simply, camp is the good medicine for the spirit.
“Ooch is there when we need it most, it’s a place where we can grow, love and learn. Ooch is a place where we can express ourselves and not be judged or feel like we aren’t good enough. Ooch is there when we need a shoulder to lean on and where friends stay in our hearts forever. Ooch is not just a camp but a home.”
Camp Oochigeas (Ooch) is a privately funded, volunteer-based organization that provides kids with cancer and kids affected by childhood cancer with unique opportunities for growth through challenging, fun, enriching and magical experiences. Ooch offers year-round programs for children and families affected by childhood cancer at sites in Muskoka, at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) and at Ooch Downtown, an urban camp facility in the heart of Toronto and various other paediatric centres in Ontario. Through these programs, Camp Ooch reaches over 1,500 children each year at no cost to their families. Building programs to meet the ever-changing landscape of paediatric healthcare, this is all made possible by the generous support of donors and volunteers. Camp Ooch provides life-changing experiences and memories that last a life-time. With an increased demand for services across Ontario, Ooch gives kids with cancer what they need most – the chance to be kids.
Funds raised through Tour For Kids support our In Hospital Program at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids). Our programs bring Camp to SickKids hospital and other regional cancer centres. While in the hospital, be it in-patient or out-patient, a lot of time is spent missing out of the day-to-day normalcy that is so essential to the development of children. Ooch is able to be a consistent smiling face and a familiar friend to children with cancer and their families through diagnosis and treatment. Ooch meets both in-patient and out-patient families and programs in waiting rooms, hospital playrooms and bedsides. This front line program provides joy, laughter, friendship and fun. Parents of children with cancer face a difficult task – appointments and hospital stays can be both exhausting and time consuming. By providing distraction and fun, Ooch allows parents a few moments of relaxation and kids a few moments to just be kids.
Often referred to as the social cure for cancer, Camp Ooch can often meet kids and their families on the same day a child is diagnosed with cancer, making this program a very important point of contact. By getting to know and trust Ooch through the In-Hospital program, families are also encouraged to register for programs outside the hospital, giving them access to a year round support network which can last for years after hospital stays end. Parents who meet Ooch in-hospital are also more likely to register their children for the life changing experience of summer overnight camp.
“I first went to Camp Quality when I was 13, right after I finished treatment. I was nervous about going… When I got there…everyone was so eager to include me in their enormous family that I didn’t really have time to feel awkward or uncomfortable. I learned that as awful as a sickness such as cancer is, it also has the ability to bring people close together. There are no uncomfortable or embarrassing issues at Camp Quality because we have all experienced the same things.”
Camp Quality Canada is a volunteer-driven, non-profit, charitable organization that strives to provide empowering experiences for kids with cancer. Since launching our first camp in Southern Ontario in 1988, we have grown to include six camps for children with cancer and their siblings in Alberta, Manitoba, and Ontario, as well as a one-week leadership program for youth ages 14-18, that encourages meaningful character building and leadership skills. For 30 years, our year-round programming and free camps have given kids the power to turn challenges into adventures. Our philosophy is that together we can do anything, be anything and achieve everything!
Each of our week-long camps are run by more than 450 incredible volunteer staff, enabling campers to make new friends, explore nature, try new activities and thrive in an environment where they are not defined by their cancer experience. As one of our campers in Northwestern Ontario shared, “At Camp Quality I went from seeking normalcy to being the norm.”
In addition to our camp programs, Camp Quality offers a community education program for school age children, grades K-8. Using four life size puppets, our volunteer puppeteers visit elementary schools across Canada to teach children about cancer, its effects and how to support a child who is returning to school after treatment, as well as the virtues of kindness, courage and compassion. Our CQ Puppets offer universal life lessons for all children and ensure that when children return to school following treatment, their friends are ready to support them.
Every summer we see the smiles on our campers’ faces – the joy in their eyes as they return to camp and see the friends they’ve made in summers past; friends who share a similar story. That shared story is about cancer.
“We had to do an obstacle course at Family Camp and you had to put on all these clothes and run around it. There is my husband putting on all these clothes and I remember when he was doing it I was laughing so hard I was going to pee my pants, so I ran to the bathroom and I remember sitting there and then as I was walking back I remember seeing them doing this and I was like ‘wow we’re having fun again’ and you know that’s when I realised its been months since I’ve laughed or enjoyed time with the family really because… sorry I’m starting to tear up, but when Josh was sick we didn’t do anything we didn’t have fun and laugh so it was just so nice to enjoy and have fun.” –Parent
Camp Trillium is a great place to start, or a wonderful place to return to for some time away from your “cancer routine”. Patients and siblings alike can take part in whichever activities suit him for that day. They can hike around the lake or do the ropes course on an energy-filled day, or choose to spend some time doing crafts on tired days. The best part is they can focus on having fun with everyone here at camp, at their own pace. Camp Trillium’s name stems from a couple sources. One being that Camp Trillium is a provincial organization and the other is that the trillium is a “tri”. Involving the parents, the patients and the family. That’s what Camp Trillium is all about.
Every child has a “special friend” that will greet them on arrival – maybe dressed up like Spiderman – and see that their time at camp is the best it can be. The focus of camp is fun, but we also provide the care these children need. Camp Trillium is all about giving children with cancer – and their families – a place to step back and have fun together. Sort of like “normal”.
We’ve developed many traditions over the years here at Camp Trillium. We’ve learned from many of our campers so many ways to have fun, make friends and to challenge ourselves. One of the oldest traditions is our evening campfire. Costumes appear, songs are sung, skits are performed. And over 20 years ago, The Goodnight Song written by Gregg Lawless when he was a camp counsellor “special friend” has been the traditional closing song. Another tradition we have is the No More Chemo Cake. When a camper is finished chemo, staff, volunteers and Barrie the Bear dance around the dining hall and present the cake to the happy camper and his family. The whole camp comes together to celebrate this milestone of becoming a survivor.
Each child and family member gets a Camp Trillium t-shirt when they leave. Every shirt has a date and is a different colour. For some this will be the first Camp Trillium t-shirt and the start of their cancer journey and for others the 5th and a big part of their ongoing struggles. When the t-shirts stop, cancer will be cured, but “until there is a cure, there is Camp Trillium”. Every year there are more campers, and more shirts to give them to keep these happy memories as they leave.
Camp Trillium started back in 1984 as a travelling camp and now we have 2 sites. Rainbow Lake in Southwestern Ontario and Our Island in Eastern Ontario. These camps are located in different areas in order to give the kids throughout Ontario the chance to go to camp and experience all that we have to offer them. The sites are both located within an hour of a children’s hospital to ensure all children and patients have doctors close by if needed.
It costs $100 a day to send a child to Camp Trillium. Thanks to our generous donors and events we were able to send 2,700 campers out for camp in 2016.