The sounds of children laughing ring through the wooded campground on a steamy, summer afternoon.
Not an uncommon occurrence at a summer camp – kids laughing.
But it means something entirely different at Camp Farwesta near Stewartsville.
One week each June, the campground hosts Camp Quality Northwest Missouri, a local summer camp for kids with cancer.
This year, Camp Quality will mark its 27th year with a Superheroes theme from June 10 to 15.
A rare camper-turned-companion, Arianne Bredlow has grown up at Camp Quality, a place she calls her second home.
“Normally, some of the kids are very sick and feel down,” the 20-year-old Ravenwood resident said. “But seeing them be able to smile and laugh (at camp) is kind of an overwhelming experience. I think that’s just the neatest thing.”
It’s a week where they can forget about everything wrong with them, she said, and just be themselves.
Her camp experience
Bredlow was diagnosed with retinoblastoma in her right eye when she was only seven months old. She had four operations within the first year of her life, and in one of those, doctors removed her right eye.
She had her last operation in January 1992 and was considered cancer free.
“I have an artificial eye now and that’s basically the only thing I have left of my cancer,” she said.
Her first Camp Quality experience came at the age of five, and after 13 years as a camper, Bredlow said she feels grateful for the camp where kids with cancer can be kids again.
“I got teased a lot and that was a place where everyone’s the same,” she said. “It created a second family for me.”
Her years at Camp Quality also changed her as a person.
“I’m more willing to go out and do things because they’ve said, ‘hey, you’re still a real person, don’t let this affect you, don’t let it bring you down, do what you feel you want to do,’” she said. “It’s helped me grow a lot.”
It can also take an emotional toll on both campers and companions.
“You develop different relationships,” she said. “And sometimes they don’t come back to camp. Sometimes the campers do pass away and that is very hard.”
Her volunteer efforts
Bredlow graduated from Camp Quality in 2008 and returned to camp two years later to volunteer as a companion.
“I kind of felt I owed it back to some child who has cancer,” she said, “because I was given so many opportunities and had so many different experiences that I wanted to give that to another kid.”
Camp Quality matches each camper with a volunteer companion. Throughout the entire week, the two spend nearly all of their time together. The companions assist campers with things like arts and crafts, fishing and horseback riding.
They also do other typical summer camp activities like flag raising, singing camp songs and having campfires. They participate in special events, dances and talent shows and are entertained by magicians and hypnotists.
In addition to companions, Camp Quality depends on other volunteers to help out during the week, like cooks, medical staff and the camp’s directors.
“It’s really neat to see how many volunteers give up their time and their jobs for a week,” she said.
The camp also relies on fundraising throughout the year. Many organizations from all over Northwest Missouri donate to the cause.
“Those fundraisers help pay for so many things,” Bredlow said.
Since she understands how important the camp is to the kids, she also helps out with raising money. She assists with the local radio-a-thons held each year, and earlier this spring, she participated in her first 5K which benefitted Camp Quality.
Bredlow will serve as a companion again this summer along with several other volunteers from the Nodaway County area. She said she plans to continue to volunteer and raise money for Camp Quality for as long as she is able.
“I can’t imagine my life without Camp Quality,” she said.