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campers-photo-bomb-e1474377616436The following story appears in the September issue of Woodall’s Campground Management.

KOA Care Camps is on a roll.

The nonprofit charity, established 32 years ago by franchisees of Kampgrounds of America Inc.(KOA), reached an impressive milestone this year when it surpassed the $10 million fundraising mark in June.

That came after the charity — a mixture of charitable organizations KOA Care Camps Trust in the U.S. and KOA Care Camps of Canada — has managed to grow its donations year after year, raising more than $1.4 million last year alone to send children with cancer and their family members to specialized oncology camps.

Those funds supported 129 camps this year, up from 112 last year, which amounted to sending 35,000 kids to week-long camps. And the KOA Care Camps board doesn’t plan on letting up any time soon as it eyes ways to spread the organization’s charitable wings.

“We are looking for ways to expand our reach without forgetting where our roots are,” said Wade Elliott, chairman of the charity’s board and president of Kingston, Wash.-based Utility Supply Group, a long-time supplier to the RV park and campground sector. “We were started by KOA franchisees and KOA corporate has allowed us to use their name and they are one of our largest benefactors and we coordinate with them. But how do we increase our visibility and relate to other parts of the RV industry so we can become the RV industry’s charity? That means manufacturers, dealers, owners and campgrounds that don’t have the KOA name on them.”

Indeed, Elliott is well aware of the fact that outside the campground realm general awareness of the Care Camps organization and what it does is minimal at this point, with most casual RV industry observers probably assuming that these camps for kids with cancer take place at KOA campgrounds around North America. They don’t. Rather, they’re held at specialized facilities with trained staffs on hand.

But the board is looking at how best to grow and include various other organizations. Today’s board features a variety of KOA owners and KOA corporate personnel as well as Elliott, Carlene Morris, vice president of Southeast Publications, Woodall’s Campground Management publisher Sherman Goldenberg and Ryan Boles of the Children’s Oncology Camping Association – International(COCA-I).

One of the key targets for the organization is looking a larger donor base. “We’re starting to involve more in the RV industry,” Elliott explained. “Another thing we’re looking at is going to other friends in the children’s oncology space, like drug manufacturers, the American Cancer Society and St. Baldrick’s (a foundation focused on pediatric cancer cures). Some may not be able to give us money, but can introduce us to donors.”

That follows on the heels of a successful partnership with COCA-I. “W are increasing our visibility, not only in the RV and camping space but in the children’s oncology space,” he continued, “but we want to be careful and not forget KOA and their franchisees are a big part of this. We have to be sure we’re doing this in such a way we’re acknowledging our roots but also expanding our sphere of influence.”

Though the KOA Care Camps name may lead to a little initial confusion, it’s a charity that’s easy to believe in for many, including Elliott. In July he went to present the charity’s check to one of the 129 camps funded this year, Camp Goodtimes on Vashton Island, Wash. That camp serves 225 children from Washington and Alaska, and spending time there was gratifying for the board’s chairman. “To see these kids have fun is just amazing. I was there and after I presented the check and we took a picture, they asked me to get down with the children. One of the girls was sitting on my knee, all the kids got behind me. I call that the sharing of smiles, and someone snapped a picture of that. That’s the one that, for me, if I didn’t do anything else, that’s the part I really enjoy, spending time at camp.”

Most of the camps supported by KOA Care Camps run a weeklong program for children dealing with cancer, but it goes beyond that. “We support some camps that in addition to the week-long project, they have something called ‘camp in’ for kids still in the hospital. They go to the hospital and have a day program for those kids,” Elliott explained.

“The camp that we support here in the Seattle area, in addition to two weeks of resident camps, they also have a week of camp for older kids to do a kayak outing.”

And the camps serve more than just the children with cancer, he pointed out. “It’s not only the kids but it’s also their siblings. Sometimes it’s their siblings who are forgotten. Imagine a 6-year-old kid with cancer, mom and dad are spending all the time with the kid with cancer and the other kids are getting little attention through no fault of their own. It’s these siblings who become at-risk teenagers and young adults, and so these camps serve them and bring them together to share their experiences, too,” Elliott said.

For more information on the charity, go to www.koacarecamps.org or contact Karen McAndrew, executive director of the charity, at 800-431-0513.