Tuesday, May 26, 2020
Camp Rainbow Gold’s Family Camp Focuses on the Preciousness of Life
A young camper scales a 30-foot climbing wall at Camp Perkins.
Monday, October 28, 2019


“Yeah, Carter, yeah! I know you can do it!” Camp counselor Max Musser yelled as a youngster methodically made his way up a 30-foot climbing wall. “Carter, you animal! You’re going to do whatever it takes. I know!”

Musser intended the words to spur the boy up the wall. But he also hoped the boy—and his family—would remember them long after they’d left Camp Perkins. Especially, when they were staring down another round of chemotherapy in the cancer ward at home.

Such moments take place regularly over four days of tater tot casseroles and burgers at Camp Rainbow Gold’s Family Camp.

Family Camp includes opportunities to canoe and take paddleboats out on the lake.

While Camp Rainbow Gold’s summer camps address the child with cancer, Camp Rainbow Gold’s two Family Camps address the needs of that child’s parents and siblings, as well.

“We bring them to a playground—I mean, look at this magical place,” said Program Manager Jason Hosick, glancing out at a dark blue Perkins Lake surrounded by snowcapped peaks south of Stanley. “They can take part in all the activities or they can do one thing--and that’s okay. And everything is celebrated—even if your talent is standing on one leg.”

Thirty-one families applied for 17 spots open in the Family Camp held in early June. And 12 new families were welcomed to Fall Family Camp held this past weekend.

Many of those who were fortunate enough to attend left behind a world filled with hospital stays, intravenous tubes and hair loss. And for four days they filled it with fun and laughter as they canoed, walked narrow winding paths through the woods and played a human version of Battleship, trying to splatter someone on the other side of the curtain with water balloons.

Jason Hosick cradles a young camper.

Best of all, they found camaraderie among those who understood what they were going through.

That started the first night as parents separated themselves from their children to participate in Charades, musical chairs and a scavenger hunt designed to introduce them to one another and encourage them to share about their circumstances.

“The general public doesn’t use the C word,” said Lisa Tener, family camp director. “We find that parents always go over the time limit on this night. They truly enjoy being with people who understand what they’re going through. It’s not just the child with cancer who needs support, who needs a break, but the entire family.”

“We often hear parents say, ‘I wish I’d known about this earlier—I wouldn’t have felt so alone,’” added Jessica Rivas, camp assistant director. “Often, it gives them hope because they see other children who have survived.”

Archery rules are strict—everyone shoots at the same time.

Many of the campers emerged from their cabins the next day for a spirited jump in the bone chilling lake despite the snow that had fallen overnight.

Once dry, they headed for the Family Challenge, in which each adult and child was given an egg on which they were told to draw their dream or wish.

Parents wrote things like happiness, family, health, success. Children drew pictures of dogs, dollar bills, flowers, candy, a heart.

“The eggs represent your dreams or visions for life. They’re fragile things that we need to protect, to keep safe,” Challenge leader Sondra Miller told them. “How will you do that? Will you put it in your pocket? Your coat where it’s nice and soft? Will you carry it in your hand? Think about how some of the choices you make impact what you do.”

A young camper tries to navigate a lifeline strung through the woods.

With each egg cradled safely, parents and children paired up, blindfolded, each with one hand on a rope zigzagging through the woods. Occasionally, one veered a bit off course, walking into bushes.

“We’ve got this,” a father told his son.

“The rope is a lifeline that represents how you walk through life,” Miller told them. “One hand on the lifeline at all time. When you get to the end, someone picks you up.”

Once all had completed the walk, each was assigned a number and told to insert themselves into a lineup based on whether they were one, 10 or something in between. They had to do it without talking.

One father stuck two fingers into his son’s hand. Another snapped his fingers to represent his number Another pinched his daughter’s fingers to show he was a five.

“Not everyone can hear. Not everybody can see. What this shows is that everybody has a different way of communicating,” Miller told them. “It takes some adjustment to listen the way you need to. And when you miscommunicate, you get out of line.”

The weekend continued with archery, mountain biking on the roads around the camp, arts and crafts and a talent show. All too soon, was over, ending with a pine cone ceremony that has become tradition at Camp Rainbow Gold.

Tears came and tissues got damp as each camper wrote a wish, tucking it into the bristles of the pinecones.

“Please let there be money for me to pay the rent this month,” wrote one. “Please let my sister survive this cancer,” wrote another.

Ceremoniously, they tossed the pinecones into the fire, letting their wishes ascend to heaven.

The campers packed up to leave with new energy to take on the world.

“It’s good to be with families going through different stages of cancer,” said Paige Brown, who attended camp with her husband Shane and their sons Easton and Nolan, one of whom was diagnosed with orbital rhabdomyosarcoma a few years ago when he was 5.  “When you go through this, life spins out of control so quickly. When a child suffers a medical condition that could take his life, it takes a toll on you  mentally and financially, even putting stress on your relationships with friends and family. Our son has been in remission for two years now so we hope we can be a resource for others.”

Brown said her children love returning to camp and seeing friends who can identify with what they’re going through since school friends have no idea.

“It’s so cool to get away, to disconnect from the outside world and reconnect as a family. Sometimes you get in a fog and it’s so cool to hang out with other families who understand what you’re going through, who can maybe help you shift back to a normal life. It’s so cool to be with those who really know how precious life is.”


Camp Rainbow Gold will hold an Open House from 4 to 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 29, at Ketchum’s Limelight Hotel to acquaint Wood River Valley residents with the plans for the new Hidden Paradise camp the organization is building near Fairfield. Those who attend will have the opportunity to enter a raffle for a to win two tickets to the 18th annual Share Your Heart Ball. There is no cost to enter.

The 18th annual Share Your Heart Ball will be held on March 14, 2020, at Sun Valley Resort. For information, contact Christl Holzl at christi@camprainbowgold.org or 208-928-7820.




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