This summer camp might seem like any other, until you meet its campers.

Whether it’s chasing frogs, scaling the climbing wall, or arts and crafts, everything about Rainbow Camp seems typical: u ntil you learn about the campers .

Summer camp is considered a rite of passage for many children — but we often forget that it can be inaccessible to children who are sick or living with a disability .

Designed for children with medical conditions that require special attention, like cancer or sickle-cell illnes, the Milwaukee, Wisconsin, camp keeps nurses and doctors on personnel so the kids genuinely have the best opportunity at “getting to be a kid for a day” for two days each year.

Counselor David, camper Alex. Photo by Josh T. Decker.

Siblings, who can sometimes be overlooked when their brother or sister wants more attention or care, are also invited.

They get the chance to totally let loose, an opportunity they don’t always have when medical bills are high and private camp isn’t always an option.

Only child? No problem — they can bring along a BFF.

“We’re used to dealing with a spectrum of needs for each child, ” says camp director Lenny Kass.

Taking each kid’s unique challenges into account, the camp is committed to creating an experience that lets any child in attendance to participate , no matter their limitations .

Scooter campers: Melvin, Adam and Memphis. Photo by Josh T. Decker.

But can a single camp experience really impact the kids, or is it simply fun and games?

While an illness like cancer can really crush a child’s spirit, inducing connects at camp and embracing new experiences helps many of the kids walk away feeling lighter.

“There was a child in the clinic[ who didn’t] speak much, ” Kass remembered. “He would barely talk at all. Here at camp …[ we] literally could not keep him quiet.”

Pool campers: Melvin and friend. Photo by Josh T. Decker.

There are many narratives just like that, of children who left Rainbow Camp with an outlook very different from where they began. And that’s the magical of a camp like this — these kids are more than their illness, and creating a space for them to be themselves can do wonders.

Dr. David Margolis, a doctor and regular fixture at the camp , noted that it’s not only the kids who experience these transformations either. “This is soul food for the staff, ” he said .

“Some have gone on to become medical students and residents here.”

Camper Athena( this was her last day of treatment !) and Doctor Stephanie. Photo by Josh T. Decker.

Parents, too, find pleasure in find their children come out of their shells, living as children instead of as “patients.”

As passionate as he is about supporting children with diseases, Kass and his squad are still invested in a future where a place like Rainbow Camp won’t be needed.

“We’d never have to have a camp because there’d be no children with cancer, ” he said. “I hope it will be in my lifetime.”

For now, he’s content with “making even one child’s day phenomenal.”

Making a difference in someone’s life can be as simple as that.

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