ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – Since she was seven, Kristen Nicholson has had one week where she could just get away from it all thanks to a very special New Mexico camp.
Nicholson, now 16, is a leukemia survivor. She’s been a regular at Camp Enchantment, a camp for kids battling cancer and cancer survivors.
“Just go have fun, be worry free for a week,” Nicholson said. “Just the little things makes it the camp I’ve loved to go to every year.”
Helen Pino fell in love with Camp Enchantment instantly.
“It just captured my heart the first week I was there,” said Pino, now the camp’s director. “It really is a magical week.”
The camp takes place at the Manzano Mountain Retreat and lets attendees forget treatment for a while and make memories kayaking, ziplining, dancing and more. UNM doctors and nurses donate their time to provide needed medical care for kids while they’re attending.
It can be heartbreaking at times.
“It’s just hard knowing that you’re with these kids and they’re so happy and then they weren’t there the next year,” Nicholson said.
But Pino says it’s even more uplifting.
“Oftentimes I have people say, ‘How can you do that? Are you going to cry all week long?'” Pino said. “We cry because we’re laughing so hard.”
While the camp’s free for parents, it’s not free to put on with an estimated cost of $2,000 a kid. For Camp Enchantment’s first 27 years, the American Cancer Society was the sponsor that allowed the camp to run.
That all changed last year. The American Cancer Society pulled funding for Camp Enchantment and dozens of other camps nationwide.
“It was a very difficult decision,” said Brittany Conklin, a spokesperson for the American Cancer Society.
Conklin says the move was made as part of an overall strategic change to put more money in cancer research and help the most people. Conklin says pediatric cancer makes up a very small percentage of cancer cases overall.
While Pino understands the decision, it nearly forced Camp Enchantment to close its doors. To make ends meet, last year’s camp had to be shortened by a day and fewer participants were allowed to go.
“We had 60 campers,” Pino said. “The previous year we had 85.”
Times are a bit better now and many of those cuts have been restored, but it’s still a major challenge to the camp’s existence.
“We’re always struggling to raise that dollar so that no child is ever turned away,” Pino said. “We want to be able to say camping is happening every year.”
“I would love to see it go on for another 50 years,” Nicholson said.
Without help from New Mexicans, that won’t happen.