Camp Wapiyapi, for pediatric cancer patients, moves online amid pandemic


DENVER (KDVR) — COVID-19 is changing the way a special summer camp operates this year. Camp Wapiyapi has brought joy to pediatric cancer patients across Colorado for more than 20 years. The camp, usually hosted in the Woodland Park area, has moved online this year.

Wapiyapi is a Lakota Sioux word that means healing. The camp focuses on healing outside of the hospital setting and allows kids to have fun. Every summer, children facing cancer take a weeklong break from doctor appointments to participate in the camp.

“These kids don’t want to sit around and be sad,” said camp director Justin Walmsley. “They want to live their life.”

Addison, 13, from Littleton is participating in her fifth year at Camp Wapiyapi.

“We all like connect in a special way and we all get to have fun,” she said.

Addison had a tumor on her spinal cord. She says she’s doing well now. She and her campmates usually enjoy crafts, high ropes, sports and other activities. But this year, the novel coronavirus is forcing organizers to host a virtual camp experience. 

“We had a virtual campfire on Monday where we sing camp songs,” Walmsley said. “Tonight we’re having a virtual dance party.”

The virtual camp is happening throughout this week. Camp packs have been sent in the mail to families, allowing the kids to still have some outdoor fun at home with color powder for color games and water pistols. About 135 patients and their siblings are part of this year’s virtual fun, according to organizers.

While the move online is not ideal, the technology will allow camp leaders to reach even more kids who are currently hospitalized.

“Out of this disappointment is born an opportunity for us to really do some cool things in the future,” Walmsley said.

Camp Wapiyapi operates entirely on donations. To help, visit the camp’s website.

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