New day camp for children with cancer to open this summer

Camp offers sick children chance to just be kids again.

Noah Kabia has missed going to school and playing with friends, something he had to stop doing after being diagnosed with leukemia in January

The 6-year-old Baltimore boy will get some of his childhood back this summer when he and dozens of other children with cancer enroll at a new summer day camp of their own. Believed to be the area's first day camp for kids with cancer, Horizon Day Camp will begin operating out of Maryvale Preparatory School in Lutherville in July.

Children with cancer have to keep out of large public settings because their compromised immune systems make them susceptible to germs and illness. That means no climbing the jungle gym at playgrounds, swimming in public pools — or going to regular summer camps.

At Horizons, extra-sanitized conditions and a team of medical staff will enable the kids to do all the activities of a normal camp. The camp is free and runs for six weeks, but kids can come and go as they need to allow them to continue treatment. The camp also is meant to be a support system for the children and their families and is open to their siblings.

"Our goal is to build more than a camp; it is to build a community for kids with cancer," said Will Eastman, Horizon Day Camp executive director.

The camp is part of the Sunrise Association, which runs similar day camps in New York and Israel.

The group decided to move to the Baltimore area at the suggestion of New Yorkers Jeffrey Aronson and his wife Shari, who provided an initial $350,000 in funding for the new day camp. The couple call Baltimore their second home and say it has a special place in their lives. Jeffrey Aronson is a Johns Hopkins University graduate and chairman of the university's board of trustees, and Shari Aronson is vice president of Sunrise Association's board.

"We have been very blessed in life, and it is our privilege to be able to share that," said Jeffrey Aronson, who co-founded the New York hedge fund Centerbridge Partners. "Who can't support a cause like this? It's all good."

Other donors were Roslyn and Leonard Stoler of Len Stoler Automotive Group and Tony Deering, formerly of Rouse Co. and now with Exeter Capital and Caves Valley Partners, with his wife, Lynn. The Cordish family, owner of a development company, was also a contributor. The Stolers and Blake Cordish also joined the board of Horizon Day Camp.

Baltimore also was deemed an attractive place to expand because of the number of kids in the area with cancer, its hub of hospitals and its strong philanthropic community.

Organizers had looked at many other locations, but it was Maryvale where they felt the best connection. A large part of the camp will be held in a building named after a former student who died of a rare form of bone cancer.

The staff at Horizon will work through hospitals to find campers. They hope to serve 120 to 150 children in the first year.

Noah Kabia was the first child to sign up. His father, Ray Kabia, said his son sometimes talks about missing school and his friends.

"It's hard to explain to a child so young that they can't see their friends," he said. "But now Noah has something to look forward to."

Noah is ready to start camp now but will settle for going in the summer. He looks most forward to swimming.

"I think it will be fun," he said.

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