SUMMERTON - The week of July 4 is not only a time to celebrate the birth of our nation, but it's also a time for Clarendon County residents to come together and celebrate a cost-free, weeklong camp for children with cancer and their families.
In just four weeks and two days, Camp Happy Days will launch its 37th year providing fun-filled activities for 275 children battling cancer and their siblings at Camp Bob Cooper, 8001 M.W. Rickenbaker Road. A prom, fireworks, tubing, fishing, painting, boating, a zip line and last but certainly not least a "fabulous talent show" are just a sampling of the activities the children will be enjoying throughout the week.
Local businesses and individuals also help by providing limo services, dresses, hair styling and makeup for the prom, prizes for different shows including the talent contest and other items.
"When we give cheerfully and accept gratefully, everyone is blessed" is a quote from Maya Angelou that Camp Happy Days has prominently displayed on the Camp Happy Days website.
"We feel like the county has adopted us," said Cindy Johnson, executive director of Camp Happy Days. "We feel like they are our family. What Clarendon County does for Camp Happy Days is really big. We couldn't do it without them."
Volunteer "Mr. Bill" Ellis said he is humbled to be a part of Camp Happy Days for decades.
"I love being able to help raise donations for Camp Happy Days," Ellis said. "Just to see their smiling faces and realize how much fun they are having is well worth the effort. Knowing that we've helped take their minds off of their conditions for even a few days brings joy to my heart."
Since its inception in 1982, Camp Happy Days has entertained more than 1,500 children with cancer and their families. The organization also serves more than 550 children annually with programs held throughout the year without any costs to the families.
"Our goal (at Camp Happy Days) is to give these children life-changing experiences that offer hope, courage and the will to fight one more round," according to the organization's website.
Camp Happy Days is the organization's signature program as well as its largest program, which equates to its most costly program. Johnson said without the support of Clarendon County, the camp would not be possible.
"There is no way that we could provide this camp without the help of Clarendon County," Johnson added. "I mean this seriously. The entire community is part of our camp. From volunteering with the prom and our other activities, our volunteers in Clarendon County raise more than one-fourth of our budget for the camp."
Johnson applauded the fundraising abilities of four local civic groups, the "Peanut Gang," "Mr. Bill," churches, schools, law enforcement organizations and especially the volunteers who assist with boating, fishing and meals for the week-long event.
Ellis said that he'll be soliciting donations of items as well as monetary donations from now until the day the camp opens. He said he would also be happy to pick up any donations, including T-shirts, caps, food, sunscreen and, of course, money by giving him a call at (803) 460-7666. Please make checks payable to Camp Happy Days. You can also mail your checks in care of Bill Ellis, 1358 Sportsman Drive, Manning SC 29102, and he will make sure they get to the right people.
"I want people and organizations to open their hearts to this worthwhile event," he said. "There are no donations that are too small. Every donation counts. When you help put a smile on the face of a child struggling with cancer, it's a very humbling and rewarding experience."
This year, Camp Happy Days will be held from June 30 until July 6 with a huge fireworks display on July 4.
Along with staffing and volunteers, medical professionals will also be on site to provide assistance.
"At Camp Happy Days, kids discover the power within them as they share life-changing experiences with kids just like themselves who are battling cancer. Kids can be kids again as they have fun and gain confidence. What cancer takes away, Camp Happy Days helps give back," according to its website.
For more information on Camp Happy Days, please log onto www.camphappydays.org.
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