Get to know BASE Camp, Central Florida’s year-round base of support for children and families battling cancer
In 1980, when 23-year-old Terri Jones moved to Florida, she immediately started volunteering at the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Terri had always given her time for good causes – being a Girl Scout, raising money for charities through her church, and sponsoring a family at Thanksgiving. After two years, she was hired as an administrative assistant.
“I always think of cancer as a war, and I was literally on the front lines,” Terri says. “People would call and tell me their husband or child was diagnosed with cancer. Up until then, I never knew a child with cancer or even knew kids got cancer, so it was really eye-opening. I was 25 years old; that reality was shattering for me.”
A few years later, Terri joined the local chapter of Candlelighters for Children with Cancer. Tasked with starting a parent support group and planning social activities for kids battling the disease, Terri began by organizing a picnic at SeaWorld.
“Fourteen families showed up at SeaWorld, and it was a great day,” she says. “I realized this is what I wanted to do.”
The concept of BASE Camp Children’s Cancer Foundation was born shortly thereafter when Terri met with five teenagers being treated for cancer at Florida Hospital. She considers the teens her cofounders. From its Winter Park headquarters, the foundation now serves children living with and being treated for cancer at Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children, Florida Hospital for Children, and Nemours Children’s Hospital (the three regional hospitals with pediatric oncology departments). BASE Camp is a place where kids and their families can always find comfort, friends, nourishment, and encouragement.
“Six months ago, a mom was having a bad day,” Terri says. “She had taken her daughter to get chemo in the morning, but they didn’t have a room ready. She called us and asked if they could just come over here, sit on the couch, and watch a movie. That’s what BASE Camp is, a physical stop along the journey where you can come and have a meal, watch a movie, or simply sit in a quiet room. Parents can use our computers to do some research, pay a bill, or just hang out. And while the family is here, our volunteers will entertain and feed their children.”
BASE Camp also hosts a gathering every week where kids can enjoy various activities. And soon, the organization will open its doors every weekday from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and to 11:00 p.m. on Fridays. Currently, BASE Camp has four staffers on site and dozens of volunteers who do most of their work out in the field. Every day, Terri and her team go to the various hospitals and feed 20 kids and their families. They bring in food from local restaurants that partner with BASE Camp and offer deep discounts to keep the nonprofit organization’s budget in check. There is never a cost to children or their families. These partnerships are integral to the ongoing success of BASE Camp, which raises about a quarter of a million dollars every year to cover operating expenses.
“As a community, we lose 49 kids every year to cancer, which is tragic,” says Terri. “We’re just trying to help these families in any way we can.”
And how, after more than 35 years on the front lines, is Terri still able to cope with these tragic losses?
“You know you’re doing a good thing and you can’t quit because nobody else is going to do it,” she says. “We’re addicted to what we do – doing good – and it keeps us going. Some days are hard. Sometimes I go home and hide it better than other times, but sometimes my family can just see and feel it. But I wouldn’t do anything differently.”
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