5/26/2011 - Kids have fun, forget illness
by Jessica Goodman
What more can you say about an area and people that continue to give back through nature and nurture? Check out the article below for information on Camp Merry Times...a very, very special part of Flat Rock and Western North Carolina.
FLAT ROCK -- Jordy Harwood, 7, from Asheville, raised his golf club and whacked it against the ball. It sailed across the field as camp counselors and his twin brother, Jacob, cheered him on.
Jacob has cancer, but both the brothers were able to take a break from the realities of the disease by participating in Camp Merry Times on Friday at Camp Ton-A-Wandah.
The counselors rewarded Jordy's long drives with a medal and a baseball hat. The red-haired boy beamed.
"It's awesome," said Sandra Summers, Jordy's counselor. "It's just kind of cool to let him have that special time, as well as see him take care of his brother."
"Everything we do for the child with cancer, we do for the sibling," said Barbara Van Thullenar, founder and director of Friends of Santa Claus.
Camp Merry Times allows kids with cancer and their siblings to enjoy all the traditional camp activities at no cost. Friends of Santa Claus has hosted the camp for 17 years.
Ted and Barbara Van Thullenar founded Friends of Santa Claus in 1993 to provide emotional and financial support to children with cancer and their families.
At this year's camp, emphasis was placed on random acts of kindness. Campers did nice things for those in other cabins.
"Each child will also decide what they're going to do for their family when they go home," Barbara Van Thullenar said.
The camp started in 1994 with 37 kids. This year, 60 children are attending the event, which started Thursday evening and ends Sunday.
The kids dealing with cancer are able to forget about doctors' appointments and treatments for a long weekend. The siblings are able to get some individual attention.
Daniel Tomberlin, 9, of Franklin, hit some golf balls, too, even though he was in a wheelchair. One of the instructors asked him whether he was getting tired and wanted to stop. Daniel looked up and smiled.
"No," he said. "This is fun."
Jennifer Woody, 21, from Sylva is a camp counselor this year. She attended camp as a child, after being diagnosed at age 14 with osteosarcoma, or a cancerous bone tumor, in her leg. She's been cancer-free for almost seven years after having chemotherapy and surgery.
"I love it," she said of camp. "I can relate to a lo t of what the kids are going through."
Savannah Garrett, 11, of Black Mountain called her little sister, Shayla, 6, "wonderful" and "enthusiastic." Shayla was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, or tumors in the nerve tissue, when she was 3. Since then, Shayla has been going for clinical trials at a children's hospital in Philadelphia. The family was driving every three weeks for treatments.
"She's a wonderful little girl," Savannah said of her sister, her eyes welling with pride. "And she's Justin Bieber's No. 1 fan. She really is."