MOUNTAIN CENTER, Calif. - The LA Kings are fresh off their second Stanley Cup championship, and on Thursday Kings representatives went to Camp Ronald McDonald for Good Times for a ceremonial groundbreaking. The program is building a brand new $3 million dining hall, which is expected to open in early 2015. Kings players were not able to attend, but the franchise was represented by their Fan Development Department to interact with the kids.
"It's very nice, I mean, the children treat us like players, I mean, they want autographs and things like that and it's very heart warming," said Brian Cooke. Cooke spent time in the Kings minor league farm system, but he's never had to battle what these campers battle each and every day. Camp Ronald McDonald for Good Times was made specifically for kids with cancer, or their siblings, to forget about their illness and enjoy being a kid again. Jacqueline Holm, a camper who had a brother with leukemia, said, "since we all know how it is to have a family member, or even ourselves have cancer, it draws us all together because we have a sense of community."
The camp has grown each and every year since the camp established itself in 1982 and has called Mountain Center home since 1994. The camp summer session welcomes kids ages 9 through 18, and some former campers become volunteer counselors, like Brad Klipper. "What camp did to me, there's not enough time in the world that I can give back," Klipper said, "because just being here one week out of the year made such a big difference in the values that they teach." Klipper went on, "the fact that they bring you in, and you feel like just another normal person. You're not that bald kid in school, you're not the cancer kid, there's nothing wrong with you, everybody accepts you for no matter what you are, no matter what sickness you are. You're just that kid at camp and you can just be yourself openly."
The camp has a pediatric oncologist on hand at all times, all by volunteer. Doctors like Cecelia Fu understand the importance of kids regaining their childhood. "When kids are diagnosed with cancer, they're really protected. Overly protected, 'you can't do this, you can't do that.' And at camp, we're like, 'no you have to do this," Fu said. "'This is what we want you to do. You can run out and play, you can go to the pool, it's okay.'"
Along with fishing, archery, and the adventure program, the LA Kings added hockey to the sporting fun, showing kids how to hold a hockey stick and shoot. But the big excitement is what the Kings donation has started to help build. Three weeks ago, construction began on a 12,000-square-foot brand new dining hall facility. It's expected to increase camp capacity by 25% and should be open by early 2015.
Holm suggests if you qualify for the camp, try it for one week. "I actually brought my friend who wasn't really sure about it in the beginning and she fell in love with it the very first day," said Holm. The Kings contribution will help expand the program and let others forget their illness and remember to have fun during their childhood.