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Putting Their Diagnosis in the Backseat

At school, children who have life-altering diagnoses tend not to get the same school experience as their peers. Whether it’s visits to the nurse’s office for daily meds, unpacking allergen-free food at the lunch table, or even being homeschooled for health reasons, these children’s everyday lives are different.

While many might feel left out of everyday activities, like sports or after-school events, there’s one thing these Colorado kids can still enjoy to the fullest extent—traditional summer camp.

Roundup River Ranch is a nonprofit organization that provides free, medically supported camp programs to kids ages 7-17 with life-altering diagnoses. Sarah Johnson, the camp’s President and CEO, shares that this is a way for these campers to put their diagnosis in the backseat and enjoy being kids. 

The Impact
Most, if not all, of the campers at Roundup River Ranch can’t attend a traditional camp due to their medical needs, such as feeding tubes, intense special diets, or the level of medication they need. 

“I believe in summer camp for exploration, maturity, trying to think outside of your comfort zone, and making new friends,” Johnson shares. “If you believe in summer camp and you believe that every kid should have a chance to go, then we need a place like Roundup River Ranch for kids who need extra medical care.”

The 125-acre camp includes everything other camps have, like a zipline, archery, boating, fishing, horseback riding, art, stage nights, and more. While campers enjoy these outdoor activities, they’re also surrounded by children who have had a similar experience. 

Each week at the camp is different. For example, during cardiology week, five cardiologists and several specialized nurses are present. The camp serves various diagnoses, from moderate to severe asthma, lung disease, and celiac disease to cancer, brain tumors, and bone marrow transplants. 

“Our campus has a full ICU level facility; it’s called the medical depot, and it looks like a train depot–it’s so cool,” Johnson says. “Our goal is for kids not to go there. We bring meds to them with our nurses and doctors wearing tutus and riding in golf carts.”

This experience impacts not only campers but also their families. Parents have shared with Johnson things like it’s their first time in years to have a date night or sleep in the same bed because they usually need to be near their child. Through this program, parents also meet other caregivers who are facing similar challenges. 

Kids Being Kids
Last summer, during neurology week, Johnson traded her CEO hat for her camp counselor hat. She recalls when the very first camper arrived. The young camper was eagerly waiting for her best friend to show up, who was going to be in the same cabin. 

The girl asked if she could move her bed closer to where her friend’s was, saying, ‘I need to be right next to my best friend.’ 

Initially, Johnson thought the girls should be separated to encourage new friendships. By the way the camper spoke of her friend, it sounded like she spoke with her every day, and they frequently saw each other. 

However, Johnson was surprised when the girl explained, “Oh, no, I only see her at camp.”

This experience has stuck with Johnson because it shows the camp’s power and impact on these children. 

Individuals and organizations can support Roundup River Ranch by donating, attending an event, volunteering, and spreading awareness. 

Family Food

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