Last week, I stopped at Camp Manitoqua in Frankfort to take pictures of the campers getting rides in vintage vehicles from the Frankfort Car Club. I’ve been to the camp a few times in the past to write about the campers, always in early August when Camp Quality Illinois visits.
For those not familiar with Camp Quality, it is a national organization that runs a one-week camp for children with cancer and Camp Quality Illinois is based in Lansing. For one week, these kids, who have been through treatments and surgeries that no child should have to endure, are able to forget about all the medical stuff and just be kids. They get to do all the things kids do at camp: swim, do crafts, bunk with friends, play games.
You can walk into camp, knowing that you are surrounded by some very sick kids, but you sure don’t feel it. You’d never get the impression these kids are suffering from cancer. They are smiling and happy and enjoying time with other kids going through the same thing.
One of the board members, Monica Lockton, of Lynwood walked me around to talk to some of the kids and snap some pictures. Also impressive and inspirational are the companions who spend the week with these these brave kids. Each child has a one-on-one adult volunteer who accompanies them throughout the week with activities.
Just a few minutes looking around camp and I am taken by what an inspiration these kids are. Dealing with difficulties that many adults won’t have to face, they go on and have fun and don’t want people to baby them or feel sorry for them. And we’re not talking just a couple of campers, but 84 inspiring kids that were part of camp this year.
If there’s anyone who knows what those kids are feeling, it’s 20-year-old Alex Ascolani, of Lansing. For years I have been noticing Alex at community events helping out as one of the Lansing Police Cadets. He always seemed so confident and eager to help and dedicated to the Police Department. I recently learned he is a childhood cancer survivor.
From his experience, he decided that he wanted to go into a career where he would be able to help people by being a police officer. He met Cmdr. Pete Grutzius, who oversees the cadets, at a training program and said he fell in love with it and joined the cadet program almost five years ago.
He’s well on his way to a successful law enforcement career, having received the Youth Medal of Honor from the Cook County Sheriff’s Department and being recently selected as one of only 25 cadets around the country to be accepted into the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Leadership Academy. He is currently at the rank of cadet captain. He says that when he ages out of the cadet program next year, he hopes to become a canine handler or work for a federal agency.
Ascolani was diagnosed at age 6 with non-Hodgkin's lymphoblastic lymphoma and he has been in remission for almost 11 years. While he said there was a time he didn’t like talking about having cancer, he now realizes he can inspire others with his story. He has talked at area schools and feels comfortable encouraging other young people with cancer. “I like to give people advice,” he said. “My life hasn’t been the easiest road.”
I look forward to seeing where Alex’s life takes him. He’s overcome huge obstacles and isn’t afraid to work hard and I have no doubt he’ll continue to do so.
If you would like to help Camp Quality Illinois, which also is a year-round support for kids with cancer and their families, financial donations are always needed as the camp runs entirely on donations with no charge to the campers. They are also in need of various supplies for camp and looking for groups, restaurants or retailers to help supply food at camp. There are also volunteer opportunities within the organization. More information is available at www.campqualityillinois.org.
There is also an upcoming fundraiser that will benefit Camp Quality Illinois, The American Caner Society and the Cancer Support Center. The Hometown Hoe-Down will take place at 6 p.m. Sept. 19 at CD & ME, 23320 S. LaGrange Road in Frankfort. Tickets are $25, which includes a buffet dinner ($30 at the door). The event includes musical entertainment and a silent auction. It is a 21 and older event. For more information, call Kathy at (815) 341-1238.