For the past 17 years, Camp All Stars has been a place where kids with kidney disease can just be kids. The camp was started by Johns Hopkins Children's Center so that kids who are on dialysis or living with a kidney transplant can have — many for the first time — an overnight camp experience. For the past two years, the American Kidney Fund (AKF) has been honored to be a small part of the Camp All Stars experience!
Thanks to the generosity of the Robert I. Schattner Foundation, AKF was able to support Camp All Stars last year. We were both lucky enough to join more than 50 kids, nurses and doctors in Annapolis, Maryland for one day of camp last year along with two of our other AKF teammates.
Last year's camp day marked almost 20 years since any of us had our last camp experiences — some of us as counselors, some as campers — and we enjoyed every second of it! From the time we met the kids getting off their bus ride to camp, to seeing them get their AKF camp bags, playing field games, participating in art class and letting loose during the dance party, it was clear to us that these campers needed this time to relax and just be kids having fun, without the burden of kidney disease weighing on their minds.
The day we left camp, we already began planning to make this year's camp bigger and better than ever, but 2020 unfortunately had other plans. As COVID-19 started to wreak havoc across the country, we knew that having an in-person Camp All Stars this year was unlikely. If we were this upset about camp being canceled, we could not imagine how upset the kids felt. We knew we had to do something!
One of the things that stood out to us from our time at camp last summer was that these kids want to be around other kids who are like them and know what it is like to be a kid with the same medical concerns. Thus, VirtualBINGO was born.
Again with the financial support of the Robert I. Schattner Foundation, we were able to create a fun night of virtual bingo and a pizza party. We packed bags full of bingo cards, pizza gift cards and tons of activities to help the kids stay busy for the rest of the summer. It was so great to see each of the kids as we drove around Maryland delivering their bags (at a safe social distance, of course!) and hearing their laughter as we played countless rounds of bingo via Zoom later on.
We know Zoom bingo is no replacement for camp, but we hope that it brought some smiles to these kids' faces and maybe, even if just for a couple of hours, they forgot about having kidney disease and were able to enjoy each other's company, eat pizza, play bingo and win some prizes. The night was so much fun, we have planned another one for next week.
We are hopeful that by the time summer 2021 rolls around, Camp All Stars will be back for in-person fun, and we will be there again to greet the excited kids when they arrive. Until then, we are so grateful to the Johns Hopkins Children's Center for allowing us to continue to be a part of their kidney care family, even if only virtually this year.