MILLVILLE — As they rode bicycles around an asphalt path at Camp Victory near Millville, a group of young campers were laughing and smiling as they were singing the Christmas classic “Jingle Bells.”
Although temperatures were in the 80s Tuesday morning, it was Christmas at Camp Victory.
“Happy Holidays” is the overall theme of this year’s Camp Dost, being held this week at Camp Victory for 97 campers from across Pennsylvania and New York. Each day of camp will feature activities based on a different holiday, such as Christmas, July 4, Halloween and Valentine’s Day.
Camp Dost, founded in 1983, is held each year by the Ronald McDonald House of Danville for pediatric cancer patients and their siblings.
Chris Lehman, Camp Dost coordinator/program assistant, said this year’s camp may be bittersweet for brothers Sam and Will Barrick, of Lewisburg.
“The Barricks will be graduating (from camp) this year,” Lehman said.
Sam is 13, while cancer survivor Will is 12.
Lehman explained that cancer patients and their siblings can attend Camp Dost for five years after the patient has completed cancer treatments.
She said graduating from camp is bittersweet for many as they enjoy camp so much they’re a bit sad to leave. However, they are also happy to be cancer free.
“In a couple years, they can come back as counselors,” Lehman said of camp graduates. “Many of our counselors are former campers.”
That’s the case with Terry Ketchem, the volunteer assistant camp director.
“My sister had leukemia when she was 2,” Ketchem said.
When he was 5, he attended the camp with his sister.
“She is doing well now,” Ketchem said of his sister. “I want to make sure the kids have the same experience at camp that we did.”
Devon Gulick, the volunteer camp director, has been volunteering with the camp for the past 13 years.
“I had always wanted to work with kids,” she said. “When I was in kindergarten, a little boy had cancer. I always remembered that.”
Gulick works as a Child Life specialist at a local hospital.
“I work with kids like this at my job,” she said. “This is an extension (of my job).”
Lehman noted that children attend the camp at no cost. Most are Geisinger Medical Center patients and are familiar with the doctors and nurses who staff the camp.
“That’s probably the reason parents are so comfortable leaving their kids at Camp Dost,” she said.
Traditional camping activities such as swimming, fishing, boating, archery, biking, arts and crafts, singing and nightly entertainment are a part of the camp.
Activities also center around the weekly and daily themes.
In keeping with the Halloween theme, Lehman said members of the Susquehanna Valley CARTS car club will be decorating their cars and handing out treats during a “trunk-or-treat” event being held this week at the camp.
As part of the festivities, Lehman said teenagers will be creating a haunted house for younger campers to enjoy.
“Everyone is really excited for Halloween,” Lehman noted.
She said Camp Dost would not be possible without the approximately 70 volunteers who give their time to help with the week.
“We have somebody from Texas who comes every year (to volunteer),” she said. “We have a brother and sister from Florida who come every year.”
Several years ago, a fashion designer who once participated in the camp flew to Pennsylvania from Paris to volunteer with the camp.
“The only thing (volunteers) get here is a lot of s’mores and a lot of smiles from campers,” Lehman said.
According to information provided by the Ronald McDonald House of Danville, Camp Dost operates on a $31,000 annual budget. Of the budget, $21,000 goes to rent the Camp Victory facilities.
Funds for the camp are provided by donors and fundraising activities.
Planning for the camp is a year-round effort for Lehman. Over the past year, she said she’s been “dumbstruck” by the generosity of donors.
“People’s willingness and enthusiasm to take part or be hands on... has blown me away,” Lehman said. “(Camp Dost is) a big hook that grabs at your heart.”