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Gilda's Club Camp Sparkle hits 10 year anniversary

Camp Sparkle uses different cultures in summer camps to educate about grief and dealing with life’s daily obstacles.

About Gilda's Club

Gilda's Club is a cancer support/grief support resource in Grand Rapids. They are unique in the fact that all groups are lead by clinical staff. Gilda's Club wide variety of tools make it a unique resource in Grand Rapids. Consider giving by volunteering some of your free time or by making a donation to thier organization.

Camp Director Jacqueline Scheuer with cultural team

Camp Director Jacqueline Scheuer with cultural team /Kendra Vanderlip

Matt Krzykwa with camper Abbe Baas

Matt Krzykwa with camper Abbe Baas /Kendra Vanderlip

Gilda’s Club, a local nonprofit organization that aids in cancer support and grief counseling, runs a summer camp called Camp Sparkle. Camp Sparkle is aimed at children entering into kindergarten and up to the fifth grade. On Tuesdays this summer, campers engaged in a variety of activities that were hands on, enriching and culturally appropriate. This is their 10th year of running the camp.

Every year, the campers "travel" around the world to five different countries - all within the confines of the Gilda’s Club clubhouse. This year some of the countries included in the traveling were Mexico, the Philippines, Zimbabwa and others before ending back up at New Orleans for a Mardi Gras celebration on their last day of camp. The students immersed themselves in activities for the day that related to the culture that they were taking a closer look at. Since a representative of each culture is a part of the planning process, the activities in the club house are educational and accurately authentic.

Camp Sparkle is a completely free event, hosted by Gilda’s Club and run by their certified clinical specialists and volunteer groups. Campers are allowed to come whenever they want, whether it be every Tuesday of the camp, or just one or two days as they can fit them in. The flexibility of that structure mirrors Gilda’s Club’s approach to individuals dealing with cancer or grief in their life.

“It’s about coming when you have the need,” says Jacqueline Scherer, director of Camp Sparkle. Scherer has been running Camp Sparkle for the last three years. She and the Gilda’s Club committee start planning the camp the fall before. This year’s theme for the camp was laughter.

“Kids all over the world are dealing with stuff,” says Scherer. Scherer and her team set up the camp so they were talking about how children in other parts of the world deal with obstacles in their lives- so that the children attending camp could then apply these lessons to their own lives.

Ten years ago at the first Camp Sparkle, Matt Krzykwa attended the camp while he and his family were dealing with the death of his younger brother, who died of leukemia and a brain tumor. He still remembers how Gilda’s Club helped him process the death at the age of 8.

“I had done three bone marrow transplants to help him,” Krzykwa says. “When he died, I blamed myself. If it hadn’t been for the staff here at Gilda’s Club, I really do believe I’d still be living with that grief.”

Krzykwa participated in Camp Sparkle for several years, both as a camper and as a volunteer later on. He hadn’t been able to participate for several years, but the second he walked back into the building for the first day of Camp Sparkle this year, he was reminded of everything he went through. He hopes he was able to be that support for some of the campers now.

“The memories just overwhelmed me when I walked in the doors, and I want to be able to help the way Gilda’s Club helped me,” Krzykwa says. 

Scherer says she is regularly impressed by the dedication of the cultural teams, the volunteers, the donors and the staff at the clubhouse.

“All of the people who come together throughout the year for these six weeks makes it an absolute treasured moment,” says Scherer. “There are a lot of places people can choose to give, and we are so thankful so many people choose to give to Gilda’s Club and Camp Sparkle.”

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