Children head to Lake Marion camp

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On Sunday, 275 children from South Carolina will leave the worries of cancer behind as they enjoy a week filled with friends, adventures and surprises at Camp Happy Days annual summer camp at Camp Bob Cooper near Summerton. For one week, children battling cancer have the opportunity to share life-changing experiences with kids just like them.

Camp Happy Days is a 501(c)(3) organization in Charleston, with a mission "to offer support and encouragement to children diagnosed with cancer and their families by providing cost-free year-round programs, special events and access to crisis resources," according to its website www.camphappydays.org.

The organization's goal is to "improve the physical, emotional and psychological health of the entire family facing pediatric cancer," according to the website.

While camp is all about having fun and meeting new friends, it is also about changing the lives of kids with cancer.

"To see the difference one week can make on these kids is truly extraordinary," said Cindy Hay Johnson, executive director of Camp Happy Days. "After camp, they can take the memories and the friends they've made throughout the week to give them the strength and courage to keep fighting their battle."

The first Camp Happy Days was in 1982, and since then, more than 1,500 children with cancer and their families have benefitted from the camp and other programs the charity provides, according to the website. Those programs include family counseling and financial assistance, "dream dates," hospital visits and holiday giving. All the programs are intended to relieve worries and strengthen family bonds.

Camp Happy Days relies on donations to provide funding and resources for summer camp and other programs for families of children with cancer, all of which are free to the children and their families.

According to Bill Ellis, a Clarendon County resident who has been raising money for the camp for more than 25 years, he said many donations come from the Clarendon and Sumter county areas. Ellis is among the volunteers who make up the "Peanut Gang," who have treated the kids to boiled peanuts at the camp.