Camp No Worries celebrates its 19th year

Children creating crafts, playing in a pool or even having a spontaneous dance party may seem like typical summer camp behavior. But for the kids of Camp No Worries, it means so much more. It means a place where they truly can be kids.

Camp No Worries, celebrating its 19th year, is a summer camp created solely for children with cancer and their siblings. The goal is to give these kids a much-needed break from the daily struggle of dealing with illness.

Kasey Massa, a Mt. Laurel resident, founded the program when she was just 19 years old while attending West Virginia University. Massa had been diagnosed with a brain tumor at age 11.

“I remember exactly how I felt that summer, that I wouldn’t get to have a summer. I would be going to doctors appointments and losing my hair, things no child should be thinking about,” Massa said. “So the camp was started with the goal of letting kids who have been affected by this disease just be kids.”

The camp’s first edition was held at Camp Ockanickon in Medford during the summer of 1995. The program hosted 14 children that year, all of them patients. The next year, and in all subsequent years, the camp has been open to siblings of the patients as well.

“Families are affected a great deal when one of their children are diagnosed with cancer. The effects are felt by their brothers and sisters as well, which is why we wanted the camp to be open to siblings,” Massa said.

The weeklong camp moved to Camp Inawendiwin in Tabernacle in 2001 and is open for children ages 6–16. A medical staff with a focused cancer expertise is present at the camp throughout the week to make sure the children are being closely monitored.

By the end of the weeklong program, which was scheduled to wrap up Saturday the 29th, kids will have had the opportunity to fit in quite a number of summer activities. This year featured a tethered hot air balloon ride, a Shrek-themed dance and a trip to the zoo.

The camp is free for campers, and any money raised is cycled directly back into next year’s camp.

“Our staff is all volunteers, students giving up their summer vacations, adults using their vacation time,” Massa said. “Because of that, all the money we raise is used for the camp, not to pay staff members.”

Supporting a weeklong overnight camp for more than 100 campers and staff members is a large expense. Massa knows it would be impossible without the help of a charitable community.

“We are sustained on individual donations. We’ll have checks come in for the next year’s camp prior to us even sending out the mailer of when it will take place,” Massa said.

Campers themselves also work to raise money throughout the year. Katie Haughey, an 11-year-old from Medford Lakes, has been going to Camp No Worries for four years since her brother was diagnosed with stage four neuroblastoma. A veteran of both the camp and being interviewed about her experiences, Katie is quick to speak to fundraisers she and her family have conducted.

“We have a tight community so I’ve hosted movie nights and yard sales. I raised more than $300 this year for my Girl Scout Bronze Award,” Katie said.

Kids staying involved with the camp year after year is another piece of why Camp No Worries is still going strong almost 20 years later. Despite making her feel old, Massa said it’s an inspiration to watch people grow with the program.

“Many of our counselors and staff were campers themselves. They’ve grown up with the camp and now are ready to give back every summer,” Massa said.

The camp has also benefitted from the support of the schools in Mt. Laurel. Hillside Elementary School raised more than $2,500, and the PTO made donations as well.

Even with the week just ending, kids already were asking Massa about plans for next year.

“With it being our 20th year, we want to make sure it’s our biggest year yet,” Massa said. “We want to make it a celebration.”

For more information or to donate, visit www.campnoworries.org.