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About Sickkids
About SickKids

September 17, 2012

At Camp Ooch kids with cancer share triumphs

By Christine Macdonald 

Children with cancer have limited opportunities to be active but Camp Oochigeas, or Camp Ooch, in southern Ontario has found a way to meet their needs.

Camp Ooch was founded in 1983 by a group of individuals looking to improve the lives of kids with cancer. Ten years later Camp Ooch moved into SickKids with the introduction of “Ooch-Too-Nite,” which was extended and renamed as “Ooch on the 8th” in 2007. Today, Ooch programs run seven days a week.

As well as summer camp, which gives kids a chance to enjoy the outdoors and have fun, Camp Ooch offers year-round programs in Muskoka and throughout downtown Toronto. These programs provide fun and meaningful experiences for approximately 800 children each year, at no cost to their families.

An important part of the Camp Ooch experience is the interaction with compassionate and fun counsellors and volunteers.  “Camp Ooch is great because it allows kids to be campers instead of cancer patients,” says Andrew Macdonald, a camp volunteer counsellor for a week this summer and general manager of Uber Toronto. “Ooch gives children a chance to experience fundamental elements of childhood – the ability to play outdoors, challenge themselves and be proud of their accomplishments. At the core of every Ooch experience is positivity, optimism and shared triumphs.”

Another Ooch volunteer, Ken Aldridge, received a SickKids Humanitarian Award this year – the Family Centred Care Advisory Council Award. He started as a volunteer in 2009 and a year later became a staff member as part of the camp’s hospital program. He was recognized for his selfless investments in the lives of children with cancer and their families every day.

The camp is named after a native legend in which a girl named Oochigeas showed great courage and determination in overcoming physical hardships. Her brave spirit made all things possible. At Camp Ooch they say, “You have failed only when you have failed to try. Act as if it were impossible to fail and it will be.”

To learn more about Camp Ooch, visit www.ooch.org.

A letter to Camp Ooch from Frannie Murray, an Ooch camper for eight years and a former SickKids patient

Dear Ooch,

Frannie Murray enjoying Camp Ooch

I just wanted to take the time to express my gratitude for all you have given me as a camper over the past eight years. Ooch is truly the silver lining of having cancer.

When I started camp in 2004 as a nervous 11-year-old, I never could have imagined what I would get to experience and accomplish, and all the friends I would make. Ooch has grown so much in the last few years and I’m so happy I was able to see all these changes.

With Ooch I got to complete my dream of going dog-sledding. I got to travel to British Columbia. I got to experience canoe trips in the summer and fall. I got to celebrate my 12th to 18th birthdays at camp with wet hugs and skipping around the Dining Hall. Ooch inspired me to get all my swimming qualifications. I’ve also had many special moments at camp that I am unable to share with friends and family back home. I try, but I also realize that so many things about camp can only be described as, “you had to be there.”

In graduating, I also feel sad because I have some friends that should be doing it with me. It isn’t fair that [some of my friends] lost their battles with cancer and I often think about how things would be different if they were still here. I am glad that their siblings are able to experience camp in their stead…

I still don’t really feel that I can express in words what I feel for Camp Ooch. There is nowhere else that I feel as comfortable and happy. When I am at camp I am filled with a complete joy that I could not experience anywhere else. Ooch has truly changed my life, shaped who I am and I don’t know where I would be today without it. I hope you understand what an incredible impact Camp Ooch has made on my life. It is such a powerful place.

So thank you to everyone involved in making Ooch possible. Thank you to the full-time staff for creating amazing programs and always looking for ways to expand. Thank you to the volunteers who give up their time for campers like me. Thank you to the MedShed teams, especially the nurses who have helped inspire me to study nursing at university.  Thank you to all the other campers who have been there to share the special moments. And thank you to all the donors who make all this possible through their generosity.

Of course I am very sad to be graduating. But on the other hand, this means I can begin to give back to Ooch some of what you have given me. I feel ready and look forward to taking on a new role in the Ooch community, whether as a donor or a volunteer.

Thank you for an amazing eight years and I look forward to many more!

Frannie Murray