Camp John Marc has introduced over 50,000 children and teens with chronic medical and physical ailments to a special kind of fun and a second home.
“Camp is a place where worries disappear and memories last forever,” said a camper in a testimonial on the organization’s website. Another camper said it is where “true survivors” are created. Several even expressed their sorrow at leaving.
One current camper compares it to magic, because every time she goes to camp she feels better. Executive director Kevin Randles can personally attest this magical sentiment because he felt it when he first arrived as a camper in 1992.
The hospitals and groups Camp John Marc partners with are responsible for inviting campers to the different sessions. The medical teams that will work with the campers are often staffed by doctors, nurses, therapists, and specialists that campers have worked with at the affiliated hospitals.
Each of the 11-summer sessions at Camp John Marc are diagnosis specific and affiliated with different Dallas and Fort-Worth hospitals, including: Children’s Health, Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children, Cook Children’s Medical Center, and Parkland Hospital.
Randles was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia on Mother’s Day of 1991. He was treated at Children’s Medical Center in Dallas, an hour and a half commute from his hometown of Pottsboro, Texas. Through the hospital, Randles was invited to attend a weeklong session — Camp Esperanza.
The camp was in a remote location, with on-site medical care and ample opportunities for fun thanks to cookouts, talent shows, and tournaments, to name a few. There was nothing like it back home.
“Being from a smaller town, there wasn’t really anyone else dealing with a chronic illness that we were aware of, especially not cancer,” said Randles, who had his last chemotherapy treatment over the Thanksgiving holiday in 1993. “It was neat to go to camp and be able to have that experience with other kids who are going through the same thing that you are.”
It was a unique place with a unique mission, which is one of the reasons Randles always returned — from his nine years as a camper to college summers on the staff. He accepted a job as assistant camp director upon graduation from Oklahoma State University. Six years later, he became camp director. And now, executive director.
Randles’ own history with Camp John Marc gives him a unique perspective of the camp’s 25-year history. Tradition is the word that comes to mind when he thinks of it, because not much has changed.
There have been improvements in the medical care of campers and of the medical facility, and sessions are now also offered on weekends during the “off-season.” But, campers still get that Camp John Marc joy that Randles experienced for years.
While campers can look forward to the traditional talent shows and theme nights, there are several projects that are outcome/skill based. This not only ties back to the camp’s tagline of “inspiring confidence for life,” but also introduces campers to a skill that they may not otherwise learn, such as photography or cooking.
Randles has seen campers take these skills and not only enjoy them, but build a passion around them. That has and will continue to be the mission of Camp John Marc.
“Maybe for 51 weeks of the year, they are in and out of the hospital in treatments,” Radles said. “But, for that one week, they’re just kids having fun. And the fun that they have is just inspiring to see.”
To find if there is a session associated with your child’s diagnosis visit: campjohnmarc.org/experience-cjm/camp-calendar.