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Governor Bestows His Blessing on Hidden Paradise Medical Camp
Friday, June 2, 2023


More than 80 youth will arrive at Hidden Paradise next week, hoping to forget that they have cancer for five days as they take part in Camp Rainbow Gold.

But Gov. Brad Little journeyed first to the camp, giving his blessing as he and others broke ground for a permanent medical facility.

“The last time I was here, I was driving through with a friend looking at cattle, and I looked up and said, ‘That’s an abandoned something,’ ” he told more than 75 people gathered at Thursday’s  groundbreaking eight miles north of Fairfield in view of Smoky Dome. “What a vision!”

Elizabeth Lizberg, the CEO of Camp Rainbow Gold, told the crowd that Hidden Paradise is Idaho’s first medical camp. Not only will it serve children with cancer and their families but it will serve others whose medical challenges preclude them from going to non-medical camps. Already, the camp has hosted a camp for children with an assortment of medical challenges and one for children whose parents have cancer. It also has hosted a widow’s retreat.

Blue Cross of Idaho donated $2.1 million to build the medical clinic overlooking Soldier Creek and a mountain bike trail that runs through camp.

“My 6-year-old daughter will get on a bus to go to camp—a regular camp—in a few weeks,” said Drew Hobby, vice president of Blue Cross of Idaho. “My wife and I won’t think about it, we’ll take it for granted. Every child deserves to go to camp…every child deserves to sit around and snort chocolate milk out their nose with their friends. And that can’t happen for the children who come here without a medical clinic.

“This will serve children with cancer, hemophilia, diabetes and other challenges—hopefully, for centuries,” he added.

The Blue Cross donation is one of many monetary and in-kind donations that have helped the camp make the transition from a former golf course resort to Idaho’s first medical camp, noted Lizberg.

Building contractors like Andersen Construction and McAlvain Companies have contributed $1.8 million worth of work to remodel 18 buildings on the property, carve out bike paths, pave over a decrepit swimming pool and more--all during a global pandemic. And they’re not done. Black Rock Homes is building a dozen new ADA-compliant cabins that will increase the camp capacity to 200 so no child is turned away.

In addition to the new medical clinic, workers plan to build an amphitheater and equestrian area this summer.

“In the realm of nonprofits, collaboration is not just an asset but pivotal,” Lizberg said. “Hidden Paradise is not a solitary endeavor. It’s a collaboration with numerous Idaho nonprofits to provide children and adults with a safe, accessible space away from the pain, stress and rigor of what they’re going through.”

Little concurred: “(The collaboration) is such a good look for Idaho…and there could be no more noble cause. You can tell by the quality of the work, the setting, that this is going to be around a long time.”

Currently, the camp includes a dining hall and kitchen, six two-story log cabins that sleep 12 people each, seven split-level cabins that sleep four to six people in each and a Welcome Center building that can sleep another eight to 10 people. Cabins include indoor restrooms and showers—a boon to children who may not feel well enough to use communal bathroom facilities outside their cabins.

There’s an archery range, three bike trails, a challenge course, playground and art shack. Signs placed around the property tell of a permanent art shack and climbing wall to come.

Among those watching Thursday’s groundbreaking was Olivia Szombathy, who grew up in the Wood River Valley and just finished her first year at College of Idaho where she is studying psychology and Spanish. She plans to work at the camp this summer.

“My godsister had cancer and she went to Camp Rainbow Gold. And my family is a big donor to the camp,” she said. “We like their mission, and everyone is so welcoming and caring to the kids.”

Former Hailey Mayor Al Lindley and his wife Linda Parker watched the proceedings with broad smiles on their faces. Lindley has volunteered with Camp Rainbow Gold for 25 years, doing everything from unplugging toilets to refurbishing the golf carts that ferry some of the children around.

Lindley acknowledged that he is nearing the end of his capacity to volunteer. But he donated a big shiny 2016 Ford F250 Super Duty XLT pickup truck to the camp, hoping it will continue his legacy for years to come.

“I love this camp because it has so much room to expand, unlike Cathedral Pines where the camp was before,” he said.

Vickie Funaiole, who met her husband Mark Funaiole at camp, was among the first camp nurses when Twin Falls Dr. Dave McCluskey started it with about twenty kids 40 years ago.

Then, she said, very few of the youngsters survived their battle with cancer. Today most do.

The future should be even brighter, volunteers surmised.

“One of these days people will look at what we’re doing today to treat people with cancer and say how antiquated we were to treat people with such toxic chemicals,” added volunteer Erica Whittaker.

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