Rosseau’s Camp Ooch goes virtual for kids with cancer during COVID-19

·3 min read

PARRY SOUND-MUSKOKA — Camp Ooch Muskoka isn’t your typical summer camp and this year isn’t your typical summer.

Since COVID-19 arrived, it has dramatically changed the way people live, work and socialize. For the non-profit oncology camp that welcomes families affected by childhood cancer, the challenges have been no different.

But, while many summer camps and programs have been cancelled this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, Camp Ooch and Camp Trillium has developed virtual programming to keep its community connected.

“We want people to know that we’re still here and we’re still programming,” said Melanie Lovering, director of marketing and communications for Camp Ooch and Camp Trillium.

To date, the camp has offered more than 2,000 virtual experiences for its campers and their families with content ranging from interactive games, songs and dance to entertainment from program specialists.

“Families who have a child with cancer are, at the best of times, isolated,” Lovering explained. When deciding how to proceed this year with a camp for so many immune-compromised guests, she said cancelling just wasn’t an option. “We couldn’t do that to our families because they need us more than ever.”

Ooch Muskoka, the last year has been one of growth as its location in Rosseau where Path to Play, a $35 million expansion is now primed for further construction to render the camp more accessible, building outdoor paths that can accommodate wheelchairs and accessible boating facilities.

The goal, Lovering said, is to make Ooch Muskoka the kind of place where kids using assisted devices can navigate the campus fully independently. Ooch Muskoka is the only oncology camp in Canada that provides on-site IV chemotherapy and blood transfusions thanks to a team of pediatric oncologists and nurses on call 24 hours a day.

“No matter the depth of their illness we’re there for them,” Lovering said. “They come to camp and they’re just like every other kid. There’s a lot of comfort and a lot of acceptance and a sense of community and a sense of belonging. It’s like a lifeline for them.”

Many people think Ooch Muskoka is an overnight camp only, but Lovering points out the philosophy is more that of a social support system for families affected by childhood cancer across the province. “We really want the Muskoka community to know what we’re up to,” she said.

The camp currently serves 1,900 kids from approximately 750 families. However, the goal is to reach 100 per cent of the more than 4,000 kids in Ontario currently experiencing cancer.

The ripple effects of COVID however, have left Camp Ooch and Camp Trillium with “a major downturn in our revenues,” Lovering said so fundraising is particularly vital this year.

To that end, Camp Ooch and Camp Trillium is hosting a virtual campfire chat June 25 at 12:30 p.m. to keep its supporters, donors and extended community, updated. “We’ve been so busy actually building this,” said Lovering, “we’ve had limited opportunity to tell our community what we’re doing.”

To join the virtual chat RSVP to spencer@ooch.org. Guests will also be sent an outlook invitation with the following zoom details: Zoom online: https://ooch.zoom.us/j/8658057056 Zoom phone-in: 647-374-4685, enter meeting # 8658057056.

This story was altered at 3:25 p.m. on June 23 to reflect the full name of the camp as Camp Ooch and Camp Trillium and to clarify $35 million of the construction is now complete and does not include the future modifications to make the camp accessible.

​Kristyn Anthony reports for Muskokaregion.com through the Local Journalism Initiative, a program funded by the Canadian government.

Kristyn Anthony, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, muskokaregion.com