Camp Ronald McDonald’s Apple Canyon Center offers fun, needed respite for young cancer victims

Camp Ronald McDonald campers and their counselor huddle up to cheer themselves in the games that are about to compete in with other campers on the sports field. Courtesy photo
Camp Ronald McDonald campers and their counselor huddle up to cheer themselves in the games that are about to compete in with other campers on the sports field. Courtesy photo

An exodus of hundreds of children afflicted by cancer and their siblings are on their way to the Apple Canyon Center this summer, better known as Camp Ronald McDonald for Good Times. For these children afflicted with life-threatening cancer in many forms and their brothers and sisters it is a place “Where healing happens.”

Beginning July 1 the summer camp program opened with the first group of about 140 campers coming in with their parents and siblings from throughout southern California. On arrival, there to greet them is a group of 10 dedicated caring counselors with the desire and talent to please every child and help fulfill an experience they will never forget.

While the tall red haired, red and white striped stockinged clown with the big feet known over the world is not there on the campers’ arrival, the just as jovial, caring and happy Associate Executive Director Brian Crater is ready to meet and greet them on Ronald’s behalf. Crater, the live in director, has been at Apple Canyon Camp since 1988 and knows every inch of its nearly 60 acres with facilities. The facilities include 14 camper cabins, sports facilities, fishing pond, new dining hall, swimming pool, archery range volleyball and basketball courts, four teepees, an up-to-date health care center, and other amenities to delight every camper. The camp even has 13 horses on loan and a mule for riding events.

All self-contained

“All our systems are self-contained in any emergency,” Crater pointed out. “The one-acre fishing pond is our water supply in case of fire.”

Parents who care for their homebound children need not worry while their charges are at camp for on staff are there are doctors, pediatric oncologists, nurses and other medical personnel at the medical center some from Cedars Sinai Hospital. All the camps medical staff are volunteers from throughout California who love the children, Crater says.

Last year Crater said the Camp welcomed 1,653 campers (1,323 youth and 330 parents). The program relies on over 400 volunteers and the staff of doctors and specially trained counselors, who provide a medically safe and psychologically supportive environment for all the campers. Last year, volunteers served 857 different roles at camp and provided almost 43,000 hours of service to the mission.

“We have been serving children with cancer since 1994,” Crater said. “We have many good neighbors around us who help with the camp and the children.”

Why the camp?

Research has shown that outdoor camp environments can positively enhance human development. The benefits of attending camp include significant increases in self-esteem and self-efficacy. The intensive treatments that young cancer patients undergo often leaves many of them with lasting, physical disabilities; and many grow up not realizing they can pursue many of the same interests and activities as cancer free children. Without the self-realization and social interaction children diagnosed with cancer mazy live more sheltered and isolated lives.

Camp Ronald McDonald Foundation noted that when the camp was founded, nearly 85 percent of children with cancer would not survive their diagnosis. But, today, that trend has reversed, and more than 80 percent will survive into adulthood. “While providing a positive end-of-life experience was an early outcome for the camp, our youth out-comes now focus on critical social/emotional skills. At the same time, our camp programs are grounded in the field’s best practices, providing experimental learning opportunities for youth to practice skills that have proven to lead to success in career and life.”

What does the camp offer?

Summer camp is a 6 day, 5-night residential camp program for patients and siblings ages 9-18. It has five sessions each year designed to offer the “normal” activities of camp but adapted to meet the special needs of the campers and address the outcome indicators. The camps are offered free of charge.

The camp also offers Family Camp to families with cancer patients aged 0-8. There are eight sessions of family camp, five in English and three in Spanish. The weekend long sessions encourage teambuilding and bonding; and develops new support systems and relationships that may last lifelong.

Crater said the camp also provides camping experience for other children suffering from other life-changing diseases, such as Crohns Disease, and brain injuries.

Local churches and charities also use the facilities for their special camps. They include the Muscular Dystrophy Foundation, the Crohns and Colitis Foundation, Hemet Community Christian Church and other local churches. The campus is open all year, weather permitting.

Camp Ronald McDonalds are spread throughout the U.S. and is one of the nation’s largest recreational camp programs for children with cancer and their families. Camp activities are specifically designed to develop social and emotional competencies in youth who have lost much of their childhood to treatment and hospital stays. At the same time, camp programs connect children and parent with other who face the same day to day challenges and help families build a network of support.

The Apple Canyon Center, Ronald McDonald Camp is the only one in southern California and is a part of of Ronald McDonald Homes and in hospital family rooms supported by McDonald Restaurant franchisees and Ronald McDonald House Charities of Southern California. Each year RMHCSC reaches more than 70,000 families throughout Southern California.

For more information, contact Camp Ronald McDonald for Good Times (Apple Canyon Center camp) at (310) 268-8488 or see The camp is located on Apple Canyon Road off Highway 74, east of Mountain Center.

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