For many kids, summer camp is a time to come together for fun and friendship.
But not all camps are created equally for children and teens with illnesses, disabilities and life challenges.
For Kyle Cruce, finding a summer camp as a kid was a bit challenging.
When he was four years old, Cruce was diagnosed with Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia and endured 18 months of chemotherapy. Six months after being deemed cancer free, he relapsed. After another year of chemotherapy and radiation, he beat cancer for the second time.
When he was seven, Cruce discovered Camp Sunshine, a weeklong camp for kids in the state of Georgia who have or had cancer. It is one of the camps conducted by Camp Twin Lakes, a year-round, fully-accessible and intentionally designed camp program for kids and teens with life obstacles.
Cruce spent 12 years attending Camp Sunshine, getting to know the Camp Twin Lakes staff and building relationships that inspired him to return as a staff member as an adult.
“I have wanted to be a member of the Camp Twin Lakes Staff for as long as I can remember,” said Cruce. “I can truthfully say that the Camp Twin Lakes staff has made a huge impact on my life.”
For the past two years, Cruce, now 22 and living in Dawsonville, has served on the Camp Twin Lakes staff at its Rutledge location. He facilitates many of the adventurous outdoor activities including the zip line, swings, high ropes course and a climbing tower.
“They love (the camp),” Cruce said. “It’s just awesome to see these kids that maybe that have some kind of disability…and they just do these feats like it’s nothing. It’s really cool to watch.”
Camp Twin Lakes runs 10 camps in the summer specifically designed for children with congenital heart defects, pediatric cancer, diabetes, asthma, epilepsy and other medical challenges they face.
This year, Camp Twin Lakes, across its three locations, will see 3,6000 campers fill the cabins by the end of the summer.
“These kids are awesome, just everything they’ve been through,” Cruce said. “This is the one thing they look forward to every year, this week, coming to camp and having the best week of their life every year.”
At Camp Twin Lakes, the camp adapts to the campers so that they can have the best possible week. It’s something Cruce wanted to give back to the camp that meant so much to him growing up.
“Me being here for 10 weeks instead of just this one week for Camp Sunshine, it’s allowed me to see the other populations that are able to come here and kind of give back to every camp that comes here. It’s been really awesome,” Cruce said.
Cruce said the hardest part about his job is Friday when it’s time for the campers to say their goodbyes until next year.
“That kind of makes it hard when they do leave on Fridays is knowing that this is their best week of their life and sometimes these kids don’t go home to the best scenarios,” Cruce said. “Getting to know them so much and getting to love them that week and then having to see them go is pretty tough.”
After Cruce wraps up his 10 weeks at Camp Twin Lakes, he will be going back to the University of North Georgia where he is a senior majoring in nursing. He aspires to be a pediatric oncology nurse helping children beat pediatric cancer – just like he did.
Camp Twin Lakes has locations in Rutledge, Winder and Warm Springs, with state-of-the-art camp sites, highly trained staff, specialized food services and intentional and therapeutic programming with the goal of giving each of its campers a life-changing experience everyone deserves.
The program began in 1993 when founder, Doug Hertz, saw a need for camp programs in Georgia for children with illnesses, special needs and other life challenges.
Those wishing to donate to help pay for children to attend camp can visit http://camptwinlakes.org/donate/.