10th KOA Care Camp Weekend is May 10-11
After almost 20 years and $5 million donated to camping for children with cancer, KOA’s Care Camps program executives have decided it’s time to take it up a notch.
According to Care Camps board member Wade Elliott, president of Kingston, Wash.-based Utility Supply Group, a marketing company was invited to the February board meeting for discussions about “further refining and defining ourselves, and helping us find where we should be.”
That entails setting new goals and “re-energizing” the whole program, said Mike Gast, vice president of communications for Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA). “We want to pay more attention to it than we were able to do,” he explained. “It’s been averaging $500,000 a year that we’ve raised for Care Camps and it’s been on a steady climb, and we just want to keep that going.”
There are three audiences KOA and the Care Camps board need to connect with, he said. The first is campground owners. “We have new owners that are buying campgrounds all the time, so it’s a constant re-education process” to bring those new owners into the loop.
Next are the directors of the Care Camps themselves. “These independent cancer camps put in requests for funding and we try our best to raise it. We have to stay in better contact with them in order to gauge their needs and make sure they’re getting what they need to operate the camps so the kids don’t have to pay anything.”
The third group with perhaps the most untapped potential, Gast said, is KOA campers. “We need to educate our campers about Care Camps and help them establish an emotional attachment with these kids and what we’re raising the money for,” he said.
The Big Weekend
One effective way to do that is the Come Camp & Care With Us annual event held each May at participating campgrounds, also called “The Big Weekend.” Campers who stay as paying guests on Friday night get Saturday night for free. Gast said it’s a “huge kickoff to the camping season” for all the campgrounds, but it’s also the largest single fundraiser event for Care Camps. This year’s Big Weekend takes place May 10-11.
“Our campground owners do a great job of having events that help raise funds, whether it’s a pancake breakfast where the proceeds are donated or an ice cream social, kids’ Olympics – you name it, they’re doing it,” he said. “And we don’t want to limit it to just that May event. We want campgrounds to be able to raise money all year long for this. We think we’ve got great potential here to get our campgrounds and campers more engaged with the Care Camps.”
Expanding the impact of existing donors is also an initiative the board will pursue. “We’re looking for new donors, yes, but we’re also looking for ways to donate,” Elliott said. “We’re considering, is there an ambassador program where a KOA campground can donate the time of a workamper? That’s one of the ideas we’re looking at – are there monetary gifts to be given, but are there also gifts of time that can be given to donate to help out these camps… We’re not at multi-millions in donations, but our goal is to get to that point.”
Gast echoed that intention. “Everybody in the outdoor industry is going to know what KOA Care Camps are and understand what they are, and we’ll invite them to take part. We really want people to help us here, because it’s such a great cause.”
The cause, he said, is one people will love supporting once they know about it, and it’s one that campers and others in the industry understand: The therapy of time with nature – and just being able to be a kid.
“These kids consider their time in camp a major part of their care. It’s part of the medicine that camping provides,” Gast explained. “This is their one chance to go and feel like everyone else. If they’re in recovery and they don’t have their hair back yet, it’s no big deal. There are 40 kids just like them. They don’t feel different because everybody’s been in that situation.
“As long as childhood cancer exists, there’s going to be a need for camps,” he said simply. “And they’ve tried very, very hard, and always been successful so far, to make sure no kid gets turned away. We don’t ever want that to happen.”
Gast invites everyone in the industry to go to one of the Care Camps and see the program in action for themselves. “There’s no way to go visit one of these places when camp is going on and not walk away with a total commitment to the cause.”
To learn more about the Big Weekend on May 10-11 and find participating campgrounds, visit www.KOA.com/national-events/care-camps-big-weekend. To learn more about KOA Care Camps, visit KOACareCamps.org. To donate, visit this website – www.KOA.com/community-camping-programs/care-camps/donations – or collection stations in KOA Camp Stores, or send donations or requests for additional information to KOA Care Camps, 3416 Primm Lane, Birmingham, AL 35216.