2021 was a year filled with both unexpected challenges and new opportunities, growth and change for Camp One Step. Our focus was to develop innovative ways to fulfill our mission and bring more smiles, laughter, adventure, connections and support to the kids and families we serve. This past year we celebrated children returning to campus in July, while virtual campers took part in multiple programs held throughout the year from home, and some even from their hospital bed. We served campers living throughout Illinois, Wisconsin, the Midwest, and a handful of children from across the country, as well as in other countries! We also reached out to our community and formed new councils made up of campers, parents and others, to seek out their feedback on programs so that we could learn more about their needs, ideas and opinions on key initiatives. We’re so grateful to all our inspiring campers and families, our dedicated volunteers who give their time, and our generous donors who help to advance our mission for your unwavering commitment and support in 2021. One thing is certain: no matter what challenges we face, our camp community remains strong, resilient, and stands together as one family. We hope you’ll join us in celebrating so many bright moments and new milestones in 2021.
Programs, Milestones and Memories Throughout the year, we continued to enhance the depth and breadth of our free camp programs, and with guidance provided by our Medical Advisory Committee (MAC), we determined how to best provide each program safely and creatively for our campers. With each program, new activities were added, guest speakers and special presenters fueled the fun, and more camper care packages overflowing with supplies were shipped to our kids’ homes than ever before! Thanks to the dedication, commitment and trust shown by our camper families, volunteers, staff and supporters, Camp One Step provided more than 1,000 camper opportunities in 2021, the largest number served in a single year in our history At a time when many organizations are seeing less engagement and enrollment, Camp One Step is experiencing more growth in our programs, as 30% of our 2021 campers were new to us! We also saw how our virtual programs allow campers to take part in the fun from wherever they are. The chart on the next page explains how camper enrollment for each 2021 program compares to last year. This year’s huge success reinforces that regardless of how our programs were offered (virtually, in-person or a hybrid model), interest, enthusiasm and the need for our programs remains extremely strong from our expanding camper community.
Our year kicked off with a highly successful Utah Ski Program,. Volunteers teamed up with our friends at the National Ability Center (NAC) to transform some traditional Utah Ski activities into a fun online experience. Special guest and motivational speaker, David Hill, talked to our kids about his experiences as a Paralympic athlete. At the end of each day, campers spent hours during Fireside Chats sharing stories. Despite the cold outside, the happiness felt by our campers kept those February days and nights feeling warm!
Throughout the spring, our volunteers worked to create fun programs for our littlest campers at Chicago Day Camp, as well as two unique programs Brain Tumor Family Camp and Sibling Camp which serve family members. The giggles of our Chicago Day campers were infectious, as they virtually toured the elephant exhibit at the Omaha Zoo, learned magic tricks, made chocolate covered pretzels, or yelled out Bingo! during a family game night.
Our Brain Tumor Family Camp (BTFC) allowed campers, siblings and parents to connect with other families virtually, and spend much needed fun quality time together as a family. Families enjoyed games, s’mores, a piñata party, as well as hearing from a panel of our older Seabees campers about experiences available through their program. In June, we hosted our Sibling Camp, which is one of only a few camps in the country that offers programming exclusively for children who have a sibling with cancer. Campers took part in a virtual comedy improv class, Olympic themed activities and out of this world adventures including a rocket building class, star gazing activity, and spoke with Astronaut Shannon Walker. Not only did our siblings have the chance to connect in June, but for the first time in 2021 we hosted three Sibling Camp Reunions virtually (one in January, April and December) so that they could laugh and talk with their camp friends several times throughout the year. Family orientated programs such as BTFC and Sibling Camp allow our community to connect with peers who can relate to their unique situations, draw strength from each other, and build lasting friendships.
“Our son’s experience at camp was amazing. We couldn’t be happier with the professionalism, attention to detail, and safety awareness of everyone involved. You have made a real difference in our son’s life and the lives of other little warriors like him. Thank you so much!”
As the summer began to wind down, excitement for our Utah Adventure Program heated up in August! A record number of campers (ages 13-19) took part in the program! Our new friends from Kids Kicking Cancer led virtual martial arts classes, while helpers from Taste Buds Kitchen taught campers how to make garlic cheese knots and chocolate biscotti. Our fall programs kicked off as our Dude Ranch program brought ranching and rodeo virtual activities into our kids’ homes, thanks to our friends at Woodside Ranch in Mauston, WI. Our campers got to livestream with ranch hands while seeing their favorite horses and watched an exclusive rodeo recorded live just for our kids! Line-dancing, painting canvas horseshoes, and baking horse treats for their favorite furry friends at the ranch were all part of the fun. Making Dude Ranch even more special, each camper was given a certificate so that they and a friend could go for a trail ride at a local barn or ranch.
The following month, we held our largest Family Camp program of all time, serving 61 families compared to 34 families just one year ago (a 79% increase!). This unique virtual program, led by camper parent volunteers, saw families enjoying much needed quality time together and laughing their way through online games like Jenga, Twister and trivia competitions. Parents also took part in a private breakout session for adults to attend sessions about coping and living more freely during and after their cancer journeys, while kids enjoyed acting, martial arts, science and magic activities. As the year ended, the fun of Winter Camp virtual kept our campers feeling cozy and warm in late December. Each day, kids joked and laughed during Camp Central, enjoyed new activities like donut making, and showed off their musical, artistic and comedic skills during the Talent Show. We had so much to celebrate in 2021, as the joy of our campers, plus the creativity of our volunteers and programs team, and the support of our generous supporters, equaled the perfect formula for making magical memories throughout the year!
New Programs and Resources Provided in 2021
Our Summer Series provided free activities that families could enjoy together from May through September, serving an average of 100 families through each month’s event. Whether joining camp friends to watch “The Incredibles” and enjoying movie treats at an outdoor drivein theatre in Chicago, planning family adventures at local waterparks or amusement parks, attending a baseball game in Chicago or Milwaukee, or selecting a family pass good for one year to visit a local museum or cultural destination site, our Summer Series program gave our families new camp-inspired memories to enjoy together all summer long.