On the shores of Clarks Hill Lake in Lincolnton, Georgia, is a special place where kids can focus on just being a kid.
“Canoeing, kayaking, fishing, arts and crafts, archery, swimming, basketball — I just love everything,” said Lauryn Kelly, Camp Rainbow camper.
Kelly also loves the new cabins. The six new “next generation” cabins can accommodate up to 30 campers each, bringing the camp’s total bed capacity to 240.
“The cabins are more comfortable and huge; oh, and don’t forget, they have air conditioning,” said Kelly.
“It is so important for these kids to be close to the children’s hospital because we have kids going to the hospital in the morning to get radiation and then coming back out here,” said Kym Allen, director of Camp Rainbow.
All four camps were created to give those fighting a grown-up battle a place to feel like a kid again.
“Being a previous camper and coming back here every year has been like therapy for me and the campers here at Camp Rainbow,” said Kendra Eady, camp counselor. “I get to share my story with them, and it gives them a chance to see that it is OK to forget about treatment and just be a kid.”
These camps also provide a unique environment where those around understand what the campers are going through.
“I had a 15-year-old ask me if he was the only 15-year-old with cancer because when he was in the treatment room, there was all little ones running around,” said Allen. “I was able to tell him no, and when you come to camp, you are going to meet an entire cabin full of them. We as medical staff can talk to them about what it means to have cancer, but if they hear it from their friend who is in the bunk beside them, then they really get it.”
Behind this serene lake setting, of course, is a labyrinth of planning and logistics that is far more involved than the traditional summer camp. One doctor and two nurses are at camp 24 hours a day, along with a team of medical staff — often the same ones treating the kids back home —to help with medications and treatment on-site.
This team is able to stay overnight at the new 5,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art, full-service medical facility that’s equipped to accommodate any disability and health condition that may arise and provide routine care for all the campers.
Fourteen-year-old Aiden Shipley has been coming to camp for the past nine years and said the medical facility is definitely an upgrade.
“You can sit down instead of standing up, and they have a drive-through to get your medicine,” said Shipley. “And they have a huge back porch with porch swings and get a good view of the lake.”
Just a short walk from the medical facility is the new rock wall, which was built and financed through donations from Adaire Pennington and her family.
“I had to hold back the tears with the first climber,” said Pennington. “The first little girl that went up there just took off and it was just awesome and an awesome experience.”
Next on the list for funding is the pool. Yes, the camp has picturesque views of the lake, and it can be used for activities like kayaking, canoeing and fishing, but not swimming.
“The lake could lead to an infection for a kid on chemotherapy,” said Allen.
Right now, Allen and her team are taking the campers to the Y to use their facilities, but they have to wait until all the other families leave for the day.
“The good news is that we are able to use the Y’s facilities, but the bad news is it is still a 45-minute drive, and we have to go in the evening, which is awesome but the kids want to swim during the day,” said Allen.
A 300,000-gallon, zero-entry swimming pool (shallow end of the pool is ground level to provide wheelchair access) with a splash pad, slide feature, bathhouse and restroom facilities are in the works. New paved handicap accessible pathways throughout the property are also on the docket of new additions.
Kelly said she is also hoping for another special feature to be at camp next year.
“They said there might also be two slides and a lazy river,” said Kelly.