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Somewhere Over the Rainbow

Posted 03/09/2008 by Christina Danek

One Missouri camp offered a life-changing experience to this TJ Spartan.
by Christina Danek


     TJ Junior Andrew Briss went to St. Louis last summer seeking volunteer hours for his college resume, but after one week as a counselor at Camp Rainbow, his whole perspective on life had been changed.
     Camp Rainbow is a week-long sleepaway camp for seriously ill children ages 6-13 years old. “The purpose of the camp is to give kids with cancer or blood-related disorders a week to be free from hospitals and their everyday life, so they can just have fun,” Briss explained. There the kids can escape from the everyday stress caused by their illnesses, and participate in a variety of activities that they would not normally be able to do, including archery, a challenge course, fishing, sports, drama and music.
     The camp is free of charge to the children and their families, and the Camp Rainbow Foundation relies on a staff of volunteers to make this possible. Members of the staff include professional adult supervisors, child life specialists, pediatric oncology nurses and physicians, as well as high-school-age counselors and college-age unit heads.
     Andrew found out about the camp through the temple that he goes to, and had heard good things about the experience. After volunteering at Camp Rainbow last summer, Briss is planning on returning this year. “It’s the greatest place on earth. It’s so much fun—seeing the kids smile.”
     Briss shared that his experience as a counselor changed his life. “It’s given me a new perspective. I take life as it comes to me, and I respect people more. The hardest part was definitely just conquering my fears of whether the kids were going to like me, or if they were going to have fun. I realized that kids with cancer are everyday, normal kids.”
     Andrew recalls that one case in particular exemplified this. “We had various activities throughout the day, and everyday we played baseball. One of my campers had a tumor in his head, and it made him permanently blind in his left eye, and half-blind in his right eye. Despite this, he could hit the ball just as well as everybody else, even though he has very little eyesight.”
    Briss shared about another experience that left a lasting impression on him. It was one specific moment was with a kid named Zach, who had cancer and was also specially challenged. “He didn’t know how to write his name, because he had been in the hospital his whole life, and had never gone to school,” Andrew recalled. “So, I taught him how to write his first name.”
     According to Andrew, the best part of camp is “making the kids smile…. forgetting that they do have cancer. Making them have the time of their lives in only one week.” He enthusiastically recommends the experience to other teens.
     “The most important thing I learned?” Andrew wondered, pausing for a moment. “Life is too precious to throw away.”