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Camp Wherever You Are

By Jodi Chiz
January 29, 2021

From Victory Junction to Virtual

Since 2018, Victory Junction has been working with UNC Health to put together weekend family retreats for patients and families. VJ works directly with Meghan Fox, LRT/CTRS, CCLS, a psychosocial support coordinator and child life specialist for the Division of UNC Pediatric Hematology-Oncology at the N.C. Cancer Hospital, UNC Lineberger’s clinical partner. Meghan’s role is to support pediatric patients and their families through a variety of events and programs both on and off-site at the hospital and is our primary partner contact.

Campers and volunteers fishing
UNC Pediatric Hematology-Oncology Family Retreat at Victory Junction

Since 2018, Meghan has worked with us here at Victory Junction to host their Northwestern Mutual sponsored UNC Pediatric Hematology-Oncology Family Retreat on-site at camp a total of four times – hosting both a Spring and Fall retreat each year. The partnership program has been able to serve between 20-30 families each retreat while also incorporating a group of students Meghan advises called CPALS (or members a part of the Carolina Pediatric Attention Love and Support program). The CPALS fill the role of “volunteer” to help families make the most out of their day at camp and maximize their experience as much as possible acting as a “tour guide” and pal for the day.

The retreat partner model that we have with UNC is one that provides families a time of respite and fun as they participate in program activities around camp together, while also having breakout sessions for parents to connect with other parents, and kids to connect with other kids. The retreat utilizes the collaboration of our on-site Camp Program Team, our hospital Reach Team, our Barn Team, and our Partnership Team to make the program a success.

Moving into 2020, our hope was to not only continue our partnership but to watch it grow. However, 2020 had different plans. With safety being of the utmost priority for Victory Junction and UNC Hospitals, our goal was to find a way to continue our partnership and serve these families even amidst a pandemic. Insert the 2020 word of the year – “virtual.” After some strategic planning and collaboration, we came up with several hours’ worth of live programming facilitated via an online web-based platform, as well as a handful of pre-recorded sessions to utilize in their online, virtual retreat.

UNC Pediatric Hematology – Oncology Family Retreat – Virtual Program

While the “virtual” retreat was unlike any in-person event we have partnered on, it was such a wonderful experience to be able to serve not only the families who would typically attend retreat at Victory Junction, but also be able to include inpatient kids that are currently undergoing treatment at the hospital who would not have been able to attend an in-person event otherwise.

“Our Northwestern Mutual sponsored UNC Pediatric Hematology-Oncology family retreats with Victory Junction mean more than  I can describe. They create an opportunity for our patients and their family members to celebrate milestones and have a break away from stressors with treatment while enjoying quality time together as a family and being able to connect with others who share similar experiences. We have been able to create some truly meaningful experiences for our families with help from Victory Junction with in-person retreats at Camp and Virtual retreat experiences with recent COVID restrictions. It is a wonderful experience for all involved each time.” – Meghan Fox

Family participating in virtual camp programming
A family participating in UNC Pediatric Hematology – Oncology's virtual program

With the support and collaboration of Meghan and her team with our VJ Staff, we were able to still provide engaging activities and a virtual “escape” for the patients and families of the UNC Pediatric Hematology-Oncology Department. Through VJ’s facilitation of virtual games, science experiments, 10 second talents, and even a virtual teddy bear clinic, we were still able to include many aspects of the experience patients would have had on-site at camp from the comfort and safety of their home, or their hospital bed. Through this program we were able to serve 25 families and 85 participants.!

We look forward to continuing our partnership with UNC Health, Meghan, and the UNC Pediatric Hematology-Oncology Department. We value their commitment to their patients, and their collaboration with Victory Junction as a partner to allow us to carry out our mission of enriching the lives of children with serious illnesses by providing life-changing camping experiences that are exciting, fun and empowering – even if that does mean facilitating them virtually! Thank you Meghan and the UNC team for another wonderful family retreat with Victory Junction! We are looking forward to our Virtual Spring Retreat in 2021!

“It was so nice to have fun distractions throughout the weekend. Our childhood cancer families are so grateful to be able to benefit from the programs you plan and the support that you provide to help us get through treatment and even beyond.” – Parent of a UNC Pediatric patient