Quality camp experience
Waikato / Bay of Plenty
With 48 campers onboard, and about as many big-buddy companions and other volunteers, the Waikato-Bay of Plenty division of Camp Quality bussed its contingent to the Awakeri Events Centre where its Summer 2018 camp took place.
For the past 30 years, Camp Quality has run annual camps in each of its five regions across the country for children aged five-to-16 who are living with cancer. The week-long summer and weekend winter camps, run by dedicated and passionate volunteers, are designed to provide a stress-free, fun and safe environment where the children can gain a sense of normality and independence and have the opportunity to forget about their illness, and just be kids.
“We don’t talk about the kids being sick at camp,” says Rosemary Such, Camp Quality’s national marketing and fundraising manager. “Our focus is ensuring everyone has a really great time. It’s such a significant thing for many of them, being away from their families and their day-to-day environment.
Camp can be challenging for them, but we have support systems well set up and our whole focus is on having fun.”
Providing respite time for families is also a valuable part of Camp Quality, Rosemary says.
“In some cases camp is the only time in the year a family gets a break and can spend quality time with their other children.”
Camp Quality Waikato-Bay of Plenty regional manager Mat Synge, who works in this role in a voluntary position alongside a fulltime job as a school teacher, says the camps are made possible only by the generous donation of funds, and the voluntary donation of time by people who act in various roles to finely plan each camp and ensure its smooth running.
“There is no cost to our campers for attending camp, and we don’t get any government funding,” he says. “We rely heavily on the generosity of our supporters and partners.” And in the Waikato/Bay of Plenty area, that support comes primarily from the Waikato-Bay of Plenty branch of the Freemasons.
Rosemary says the Freemason organisation often flies below the radar. “You don’t hear much about what they give and who they support, but they have always been a strong supporter in this region.
“The Lions are also a great supporter of Camp Quality,” she says. “They’ve been there since the beginning, but it happens that in this region, Freemasons are our biggest supporter.”
Presenting Camp Quality with a cheque for $19,000 at Awakeri last week – something Mat says the Freemasons have done every year for a long time – members, along with their wives, were also onsite at the camp during every mealtime, assisting with food preparation and taking care of the clean-up afterwards. “They really are absolutely fantastic to us,” he says.
Mat says they also receive generous support from the business community. “Bethlehem Coachlines is a good example,” he says. “They’ve always been great to us, providing buses and drivers. And this time, the drivers chose to stay the whole time at camp and help us out there too. It’s great.”
But support comes in all forms, he says, and of all the people who voluntarily work to make Camp Quality a fun and memorable experience for its campers, it is, perhaps, the companions that contribute the most.
Considered the life blood of Camp Quality, a companion is a person (18 years and older) who is assigned to a camper as their buddy, to stay by and care for their camper every moment of every day. Operating on a ratio of one companion per camper for all the organisation’s camps, Rosemary says Camp Quality is always on the lookout for new companions, particularly males, who are are often short on the ground.
“Recruitment pretty much happens all by word of mouth, and we have lots of people to return year after year, giving up a week of their holidays. Applications can be made directly through the Camp Quality website.
All aspiring companions are required to attend a weekend training workshop, with experienced companions also attending annual refreshers.
Rosemary says the experience for a companion is “full on, but also very rewarding”. Companions are responsible for their camper’s physical and emotional wellbeing, although volunteer nurses also attend camp to address any medical needs. They also ensure their camper has a great time. “But they gain much from the experience,” she says.
“As with the campers, companions often make new friends and have lots of fun themselves. We have good support systems set up so that they look out for each other too.” Rosemary says the organisation trains around 500 volunteers each year.
“It’s all about fun at camp,” she says. “About being able to forget about being unwell and to just be like everyone else”.
“Safe, sorted, and smiling. That’s our motto.”
Bailley West, currently a high school teacher in Hamilton, gave up a week of her holidays to volunteer as a companion for Camp Quality’s summer camp at Awakeri.
“It’s the first time I’ve done it, but I’ll definitely be back. I’ve absolutely loved it,” she says. In fact, Bailley says, she’s been so inspired by the work of Camp Quality and the happiness it brings to the children, she’s considering becoming more involved with the organisation.
“I’m looking at perhaps becoming part of the committee later on”.
Formerly of Edgecumbe and with family still living in the area, Bailley says she was able to call on her parents’ involvement with the local Twin-diff club, and arrange an event for the children to take part in.
It was an earlier experience of volunteering (with the Dream Chaser Foundation) that she says led her to volunteering for Camp Quality. “It’s a really big commitment, and you need to genuinely like kids and caring for all of their needs, but it’s been a great experience for me, and lots of fun. We’ve all become like a big family.”
Melissa Veltman, formerly of Whakatane but now at university in Palmerston North says this is the second time she has volunteered as a companion for Camp Quality.
“I love seeing the progress the children make throughout camp, and how their confidence increases,” she says.
Wedding photographer Courtney Horwood lives in Mount Maunganui and has volunteered as a companion on many previous camps.
“I come from Whakatane, and years ago, I attended a Camp Quality with my sibling (siblings sometime camp alongside their young camping brother or sister). I always knew that I’d end up being involved later on. I always wanted to come back and help”.
Living in Melbourne for several years, Courtney says she began volunteering at Camp Quality there, acting as a companion for three or four camps, and since returning to New Zealand, she has been a companion at a further three, and is now a regional committee member acting as liaison with camper’s families.
“You need to have a passion for it,” she says, “to enjoy being on camp and ensuring the kids are enjoying it”.
Twelve-year-old Whakatane St Joseph’s student, Ebbany Biddle-Bateson, says she’s been coming to Camp Quality camps since she was just five, and has made friends along the way that she only gets to see once or twice a year – “at camp”.
“I have one really, really, good friend that I met on camp a long time ago and I love seeing her. Sometimes we get to text each other through the year, but we only get to see each other on camp and that’s lots of fun”.
Ten-year-old Edgecumbe girl, Mikayla Mullins, says this is the fourth time she has been to camp.
While it’s clear that many camp activities are popular with Mikayla, it’s the water activities that win out. “Swimming in the pool and at the beach are my favourites,” she says.