Soon after moving to Brookline two years ago, Erin Fletcher began searching for a free camp for kids with cancer, similar to the one at which the 26-year-old has volunteered for the last eight summers in her native California.
Again and again, people told her they weren’t aware of a local version of Camp Reach for the Sky in San Diego. Then Dr. Michael Goldberg of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute offered to help her start one.
Fletcher, who at the time was conducting colorectal cancer research through a full-time doctoral program at Harvard University, incorporated Camp Casco for pediatric cancer patients and survivors in October 2014. After securing nonprofit status with pro bono legal services, the pair exceeded $50,000 in fund-raising before recruiting campers from cancer clinics, nonprofits, and foundations.
With an all-volunteer staff of 20 camp counselors and five medical professionals, the inaugural Camp Casco hosted 13 campers, ages 7 to 18, at the Berkshire Outdoor Center from Aug. 24 to 28.
The theme for the week was superheroes, with traditional camp offerings of archery, canoeing, swimming, indoor rock climbing, and nightly campfires. Special activities included “wipe out lunch,” where campers ate in a darkened room with glow-in-the-dark objects. For “egg roulette,” they smacked an egg — not knowing if it was raw or hard-boiled — against their favorite counselor’s head.
Fletcher, who left Harvard with a master’s degree in May 2015 to run the camp full time, is currently seeking partnerships and sponsorships to expand to 28 campers (representing two new cabins of seven). Applications will be accepted in January for summer 2016.
While a separate date may someday be added for siblings, Fletcher intends to keep the same week each summer for the current campers. The goal, she said, is for the kids to continue offering one another friendship, support, and hope through shared experiences.
“I hope that, financially, we get to the point where I can tell each camper that you can come back every year, and when you’re old enough, you can be a counselor,” she said. “I want the camp to be something they can count on.”
For more information, visit campcasco.org.Cindy Cantrell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.