MAPLEWOOD, NJ — This summer, Camp Happy Times, like the majority of camps around the country, will become a place that engages kids cerebrally and looks to online opportunities for growth and friendship building. The decision to move to a completely online camping experience was shaped by the new operating parameters of state and local governments and camp association guidelines. Family opinion also weighed in, as a recent poll conducted by Slate Magazine found that more than 80 percent of parents said they would not feel comfortable sending their children to sleepaway camp this summer.
The camp is run by the Valerie Fund, based in Maplewood, which supports families with children fighting against cancers and blood diseases.
From the very first campfire in 1983, the Valerie Fund’s one-week overnight summer camp experience has always been a time to let all the pain and fear go and just enjoy being young. Camp Happy Times is a place where illness is a common bond but it doesn’t always need to be part of the conversation because campers and many counselors can honestly say to each other, “I know how you feel.” It is a place where, despite medical challenges, children are doing all the things that their healthy peers are doing. In the words of former camp Director Millie Finkel, “I can’t cure them but I can give the campers one hell of a week.”
This year, the Camp Happy Times’ theme is “Always Connected” and will take place from Monday, Aug. 16, through Friday, Aug. 21. For the first time, siblings of current or former cancer patients, as well as hematology patients, will be permitted to participate. The camp is open to pediatric oncology and hematology cases treated at the Valerie Fund and elsewhere.
All live and pre-recorded sessions will be run by current Camp Happy Times staff and counselors using online digital platforms such as Zoom. In advance of the program, campers will receive CHT Camper Kits, which includes hands-on materials that will interface with virtual sessions. The “Staying Connected” schedule will include familiar camp activities, beginning with meeting up at the morning flagpole, arts and crafts, cooking classes, and the most popular of camp experiences — campfires. The virtual platform will also feature yoga, makeup tutorials, videomaking lessons, fashion shows, scavenger hunts, and dance and talent shows.
“Our virtual program will strive to bring all of the things we hold so dear in a new and exciting fashion to all our camp family,” camp Director Matt Ruttler said. “Camp is not a place. It is the people, the feelings, the love and the family that CHT provides.”
For more information or to make a donation, visit www.thevaleriefund.org or contact Ruttler at firstname.lastname@example.org.