How Helping Kids With Cancer Strengthens This Couple’s Bond

For kids with cancer, Camp Oochigeas is the ultimate escape — an opportunity for campers with childhood cancer (or those who have been affected by it) to enjoy traditional summer camp activities with peers who understand what they’ve been through. Nestled amongst the tall pines and pristine lakes of Muskoka, Ontario, Camp Ooch (its catchy nickname) is privately funded and depends on generous volunteers who spend their summer holidays working at camp.

Kelly Anthony-Brown and Drew Blanchette met while they were volunteering at Camp Ooch in the summer of 2010. Although they were drawn to the camp for different reasons, they continue to volunteer there and their experience working with kids with cancer has brought them closer together. Here, the Toronto couple talks about how they met and why volunteering at Camp Ooch is such a rewarding experience to do as a couple.

What inspired each of you to volunteer at Camp Oochigeas?

Kelly says… I heard of Camp Ooch through family friends who volunteered there and had amazing things to say about it. I love camping and working with kids. It came at a perfect time in my life where I was looking for a new volunteer opportunity. I had volunteered at Ooch for four summers before I met Drew. It has been such a magical, important part of my life and it became my summer routine to volunteer there.

Drew says…  Through their jobs, my family was involved in Ooch and my brothers were past volunteers. I had just quit my job on Bay Street and was transitioning careers. I had summers off and wanted to do something good in the community. I had been at Ooch for three years before meeting Kel, so it was already a regular and important thing for me.

Why is volunteering at camp a rewarding experience?

Kelly says… Where to begin? Volunteers at Ooch often talk about how we think we get more out of the experience than the campers! We feel unbelievably fortunate to be part of such a special place every year. It is rewarding in so many ways. You get to spend time with a supportive, accepting community of selfless people. You get to unplug from the turmoil of “real life” and spend two weeks in nature. You get to take part in daily levels of fun, silliness and creativity that exist nowhere else in life. You get to challenge yourself and support others as they challenge themselves to grow. But above all of this, it is rewarding because you get the privilege of providing kids with cancer the opportunity to just be kids. You get to see them laugh, giggle, dance, sing and be joyful everyday for two weeks. It fills up your soul.


How has sharing this experience of volunteering at camp together strengthened your relationship?

Kelly says… Given that we met there, it was the foundation of our relationship. We were both there for the same reasons and so we found we had many core values in common. Being able to continue sharing the Ooch experience reinforces these values for us. It is often hard to describe the Ooch experience to those who have not been a part of it, so our relationship is strengthened because we both “get it.” Also, it is just plain fun to be silly and make a fool of yourself with your partner.

What has been the most inspiring, memorable or moving moment at camp?

Kelly says… It is impossible to select one example from seven years of near-constant inspirational and joyful Ooch moments. One thing that continues to stand out for me is the closing campfire celebration at the end of a session. Campers are encouraged to be part of the show and perform a song, skit, magic trick, anything. Seeing kids who were timid and unsure coming off the bus on the first day stand up confidently in front of a group of people and share a performance is incredible. As if that weren’t enough, the response of the crowd is humbling. Where shaky performances at school “in the city” might be met with laughter, sneers or teasing, at Ooch every camper in the audience is warm, supportive and accepting.

Drew says… I agree. (See? We’re a perfect match!)

What inspires each of you to return to camp year after year?

Kelly says… How could you not want to return to such a magical place?! It is one of the things we both look forward to every year and something around which we plan our lives. Campers make a difference in our lives and we get to feel like, in some small way, we make a difference in theirs.

Would you recommend this experience to other couples looking for rewarding ways to give back?

Kelly says… Most definitely. Although you may not see each other much while up at camp (being an ambassador of fun for kids keeps you busy!), sharing the overall experience is pretty special.

Image(s): Courtesy of Kelly Anthony-Brown and Drew Blanchette