About 80 young people amped up in anticipation of the Great Jell-O War of 2013 make the air in the dining hall at the R-Bar-C Boy Scout Ranch almost as electric as the lightning-filled atmosphere outside.
Until the leaders think the storm sitting on top of the camp has moved far enough away, they are keeping their charges inside. In the meantime, activity coordinators have everyone swarming around the hall playing different games.
From July 22 to July 27 the Boy Scout Ranch became Arizona Camp Sunrise, sponsored by the American Cancer Society for young people, ages 8 to 16, who have or have had cancer.
Watching the youngsters run, romp, giggle and grin, you can’t really tell who has cancer or is a member of the staff — the camp has about one staff member for every two campers. The kids show few signs of their treatments.
One thing does show — they’re having the time of their lives. And that is the whole point of the weeklong adventure on the Rim — to give the participants the most fun, safe camping experience ever, so they can put all the fear, anguish, pain and uncertainty out of their minds for a little while.
Here, they’re not singled out as sick children; they are just children having a grand time in fresh air, with plenty of mud and bugs at a Rim Country camp far removed from hospitals.
During camp, children play in a safe environment adapted to their special needs, whether it’s swimming, dancing or arts and crafts. Many campers return each year and two-thirds of the counselors came here originally as campers.
Director Melissa Lee has attended Camp Sunrise for 30 years — since its inception in 1983. After bouncing from the White Mountains to Flagstaff, the camp has found its home in Rim Country now for 29 years.
Starting as a counselor while attending Arizona State University, Lee has served as director for 23 seasons. She lives in California where she is a software engineer and works at two schools. She is also the mother of three and has been bringing her children to the camp since they were all babies.
“We have a great relationship with the Boy Scouts and helped them build a lot of the facilities,” Lee said. Among those facilities are the campers’ cabins.
Camp Sunrise is for children who have or have had cancer, but their families aren’t left out of the fun. Younger children, ages 3 to 7, and their families get an overnight at the R-Bar-C. Then the siblings of campers get a whole week at Camp Sidekicks. Lee said the campers’ brothers and sisters get the same activities — and sometimes more … the day’s Jell-O War for the campers was canceled because the storm left the playing field too slick, but their siblings had their own war the week before.
Often Camp Sidekicks has more campers than Camp Sunrise because many of the Sunrise participants have several siblings, Lee explained. This year Camp Sunrise had about 60 campers and Sidekicks had 110.
None of the campers has to pay to participate. The American Cancer Society funds everything through donations.
Additionally a lot of donations of materials are made directly to the camp, such as food provided through the restaurant association.