It's difficult to imagine the trust it would take to hand-off to a camp counselor a child who is fighting cancer. But each year more than 100 families place that trust in
, a camp devoted to helping children with cancer feel normal by just doing the things that other kids do — swim, play baseball, climb a ropes course, roast a marshmallow — and offering families a respite from providing what is often 24/7 care. The camp's high regard can be traced directly to Eleanor West, camp director for 18 years, the first 11 of which were as a volunteer.
How does she handle the emotional aspects of her job? "I began to look at the children all as friends. And friends come in and out of your life," she says. "And I believe in the afterlife, so I don't worry about them in that way. The good Lord has provided those children for me to help out for a period of time."
West concedes that at times it feels overwhelming to manage the machinery of running such a camp, but special moments more than compensate. "When a parent comes up to you and thanks you for making their life better, or you see a child have more confidence because they now know there are other children like them, it blows my mind," West says.
Jeff Smith is editor of Traverse, Northern Michigan's Magazine.
Note: This article was first published in April 2006 and was updated for the web February 2008.