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Camp Adventure gives youngsters respite from cancer at Quinipet

SHARON DONNO PHOTO  The shaving cream fight, one of Camp Adventure’s favorite annual events, on the Camp Quinipet campus Monday.
The shaving cream fight, one of Camp Adventure’s favorite annual events, on the Camp Quinipet campus Monday.

It’s”Shark Week” at Camp Adventure, where more than 150 campers and as many staffers have gathered to celebrate a respite from doctors, hospitals and medical tests that has informed the young campers’ lives since they were diagnosed with cancer.

On a visit with these energetic kids during their respite on the Camp Quinipet grounds, it was difficult to separate those who are patients from their siblings who join them during this special week.

They come from around the country and thanks to the effort of PALS — Patient AirLift Services — a number of campers arrived this year by plane to participate in the program.

Camp Adventure Co-director Melissa Firmes-Ray, was as excited about Shark Week as the campers. Ms. Firmes-Ray’s long involvement with Camp Adventure came years before she was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in 2014. Despite a life-saving stem cell transplant, she continues to undergo treatment.

Shark Week will include a celebration held Wednesday night featuring shark-themed cookies and pastries that many Islanders have baked.

Most staff members are volunteers at the week-long camp includes doctors and nurses to administer treatments to those children who need medical assistance. Specialists with specific expertise have arrived to offer programs to the campers. Monday, Diane MacDonald from It Takes A Village Wellness in Port Jefferson came on board. Yoga and working with children with special needs is her speciality. Through a series of relaxation and stretching exercises and movements to music, classes of older and younger campers appeared to delight in the sessions.

Friend Donald MacKenzie, of Port Jefferson a long-time volunteer with Kids Need MoRE, the fundraising arm of Camp Adventure, brought the camp to Ms. MacDonald’s attention.

What brought Mr. MacKenzie into the Camp Adventure family was his friend, Robert Newell, who has been running a golf outing for the past 17 years to raise money for Kids Need MoRE. This year’s event raised $20,000, $5,000 of which went to a family who just lost a loved one to cancer and had fallen into debt during the course of that illness, Ms. Firmes-Ray said.

Fundraising is a constant for Kids Need MoRE since it costs about $2,000 to send a child to Camp Adventure for the week.

The Shelter Island community has opened its arms to help the campers enjoy the week. Families offer everything from housing for a few youngsters too ill to spend the night at camp as well as to staffers. Firefighters organized and participated in one of the most beloved events — the annual shaving cream fight on Tuesday, and they and police officers and other volunteers topped it off with a barbecue.

But perhaps the most moving part of the week is a ceremony in which campers and staff gather to pay their respects to those who have lost their battles with cancer, remembered for all they gave to Camp Adventure in their too-short lives.