Carol Mastenbrook, Executive Director, who came on board in November 2013, spoke to me by phone.
I asked what The Goodtimes Project's biggest challenge was transitioning away from American Cancer Society sponsorship for the first time in 30 years in 2014?
Paraphrasing, Carol told me, ACS gave us the infrastructure, technology, accounting, etc. We had to build structure at the same time we were soliciting, essentially "driving the car at the same time as we were building it." Fortunately people in this region really love this camp and people "stepped up."
I am truly grateful and amazed they are able to offer camp free of charge to families again this year despite all that building going on behind the scenes.
I asked how Camp Goodtimes West is related to Camp Goodtimes in Canada?
Apparently they are not at all related but have the same name. ACS sponsored Camp Goodtimes East and Camp Goodtimes West until last year. Camp Goodtimes East moved from Idaho to Spokane, Washington.
I cannot think of a better program than Camp Goodtimes to represent the concept of "healing outdoors", so I asked, how might you describe what being outdoors means to a person being treated in a hospital?
Carol's answer: "Hospitals are full of scary machines, statistics, routines, stressful decisions. Being at camp outdoors, children get to be cared for, nurtured, and re-experience childhood."
I asked Carol whether a family caregiver outdoors weekend retreat is something that might be helpful to parents facing childhood cancer and whether she knew of any organizations that sponsor family caregiver retreats. She did not immediately, and I told her my research finds the only regular caregiver retreat for both family and professional caregivers in Washington State is in my "backyard" at the Tahoma One Drop Monastery. If anyone finds another, please pass the name along to me! She hinted that such a retreat might be considered in the future as The Goodtimes Project expands.
When I asked what advice would you give to someone trying to start a nonprofit, Carol provided very helpful suggestions about clarifying a 30-second description of my mission and how I might seek volunteers to attend free nature connection workshops I could offer in the Seattle area. Creating a nonprofit organization is a huge endeavor that requires a lot more resources than I currently have, and for now I intend to gain more experience and collaboration.
Finally I asked how many families has Camp Goodtimes served (primarily from Alaska and Washington) and was told roughly 4500 children over 30 years! This number includes cancer patients and siblings combined. A powerful "recipe" seems to be the fact the camp combines healthy cancer survivors with children currently in treatment. This creates space for empathy, understanding, and hope.
Aside from the mission listed below from their website, it would not be complete if I did not mention the importance of SNOJ (pronounced "snodge") at camp. What is SNOJ? Super Novas of Joy, of course!
My daughter is thrilled to be attending camp again this summer and hopes to become a camp counselor in the future. The camp staff are out of this world incredibly committed people to providing a beautiful service to families facing childhood cancer. Each time I drop off my child at this camp, I leave with my own spirit uplifted from the infectious joy they foster.
Thank you Camp Goodtimes!
- Affirms the joys of childhood often missed by those in treatment
- Fosters friendships between children and families who share common experiences
- Instills confidence through a variety of programs and activities
- Cares for their social safety as well as their medical safety
- Strives to send the children back into the world as more independent, caring, and capable youth
- Offers parents peace of mind as they entrust their children to camp, and take a well-deserved break
Our future vision expands our outreach into an organization that serves all aspects of the community affected by childhood cancer, such as:
- Patient, sibling, teen and family events and retreats
- Organized services and visits to pediatric oncology wards at Western Washington and Alaska hospitals.
- Year-round activities to sustain community, provide support, and give patients, survivors, and siblings opportunities to laugh, play, sing and dance, make friends, meet mentors, and take back some of the "normalcy" that childhood cancer steals away.