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Family at Roundup River Ranch

Making Summer Camp Memories

Roundup River Ranch provides summer camp experiences for kids with severe illnesses and special medical needs.

At Roundup River Ranch (RRR) in Gypsum, you”ll find kids riding horses, hiking, boating, creating art, and participating in many other traditional summer camp activities. The difference? All campers at RRR suffer from serious illnesses.

“Activities are adapted, schedule changes are made, special meals are prepared, and other accommodations are made to meet our campers where they are,” says Sterling Nell Leija, executive camp director of RRR. “Having said that, we strive to normalize the experience since our campers spend so much time being sick,” she says. “Campers can take a vacation from being a patient so they can get back to the fun of being a kid at camp.”

Another difference? RRR camps are free to attend. It will serve about 1,400 campers this summer, thanks to generous individual donors, corporations, and foundations. The camp works closely with partner hospitals including Children’s Hospital Colorado, National Jewish Health, Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children Presbyterian/St. Luke’s, and others to determine which illnesses should be served during different camp sessions. They”ll start sessions this June serving heart disease and heart transplant patients; other weeks of both summer and family camp cater to kids with cancer, severe asthma, celiac disease, acquired immunodeficiency, and others.

To attend, children must have a diagnosis that matches an already-scheduled session; must be socially, physically, and emotionally able and open to a camp environment; between the ages of seven and 17 (under age 17 for family camp); and within three years of active treatment and/or currently experiencing the challenges of a chronic or life-threatening condition. “These requirements help ensure that we”re accepting campers who will be well supported by the services we offer,” Leija says. Registration is now open on the website.

Beyond the goal of accommodating sick kids for camp, Leija loves the support she’s seen families offer one another.

“At family camp, we create a coffeehouse setting for parents to connect with each other. A few years ago, I”ll never forget the image of a group of mothers huddled around another mother giving her advice, hugging her, and comforting her as she unloaded her worries and fears to the group,” Leija recalls. “The next year, (I saw) the mother who was comforted the year before hugging a mother who was new to camp. The cycle of support that parents are able to provide families who are on a similar journey is incredibly touching. Many parents identify it as an important part of their healing and journey.”


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