Sharing Success With Camp Mak-A-Dream
If you visit rural Gold Creek, Montana and Camp Mak-A-Dream in the summer, you are likely to see children, young adults or families participating in traditional camp activities like horseback riding, archery, swimming or zip lining. What isn’t apparent, at first, is that every one of these campers has been profoundly impacted by cancer.
Camp Mak-A-Dream, a cost-free, medically supervised camp serving those diagnosed with cancer and their families, received funding from CoBank through the Sharing Success program. The facility offers multi-day camp experiences during the summer months and retreats, educational workshops and events throughout the year. Campers come from all 50 states and around the world to experience the beauty of Montana’s “Big Sky Country,” and to make memories and share experiences with people who understand the challenges they face.
“I met my best friend here years ago and we still talk every other day,” said cabin leader Mark Young II, who came to camp for the first time in 2009 as a brain tumor survivor. “I came here as a camper and I’ve come back over and over again, as a volunteer and staff member. As a camper, I was able to ride horses and do the high ropes course, but what stands out most in my memory is the ability to connect with others with similar experiences. That connection brought real comfort and stability.”
The program’s executive director Kim McKearnan says that participants are often referred to Camp Mak-A-Dream by oncology programs throughout the country. The camp offers an onsite health center, and nurses and doctors provide care 24/7. However, the staff works very hard to minimize the impact of any necessary medical care on the camp experience. For example, nurses bring medications to the kids during lunch so they don’t miss any activities.
“Some of our campers are in remission and others are still in active treatment,” said McKearnan. “But all of them are looking for the opportunity to experience summer camp, just like any other kid.”
Joanna Barton works in the camp’s art barn. Barton first came as a sibling camper in 2008 and, like others, returned first as a volunteer and then as a staff member. Barton’s brother passed away at eight from leukemia. She was referred to Camp Mak-A-Dream by the Seattle-based hospital that treated him.
“At camp, I got to talk about things that people back home didn’t understand,” said Barton. “I’ve met people from all over the country here. Everyone has such a different life, but you immediately bond with them because you know you’ve got so much in common.”
For years, Camp Mak-A-Dream has been supported with contributions and volunteerism by the leadership and staff of Missoula-based Blackfoot Communications. A long-time CoBank customer, Blackfoot offers high-speed internet and residential phone services across Montana and eastern Idaho, as well as voice, data and cloud services to small businesses in 18 states.