Summer camps are in high season in Vermont. And it's no different at Camp Ta-Kum-Ta in South Hero.
"You look at their faces; they are having a time of their life!" Ted Kessler said.
What sets these kids apart is who they are-- they're all cancer patients.
"The C word is unspoken... unspoken here," Ted said.
Here, cancer is put away for a week.
"People say I couldn't work there, it's so sad. Just the opposite!" Ted said.
Eighty-six campers and 117 volunteers keep the weeklong camp humming. The kids are either from Vermont or are being treated in a Vermont hospital. No one ever pays. It's funded entirely by donations. Ted Kessler and his wife, Debby, have been here from the beginning.
"This is my son coming right here," Ted said. "He's the reason I started the camp."
His then young son Todd was suffering from leukemia and spent a summer at a cancer camp in New York. The Kesslers got the idea of starting something closer to their home. It was 30 years ago and Ted was struggling to name the place, when a 4-year-old came up to him and said, I want to come to this place. It's a camp for 7-17-year-olds. And she said, I want a camp Ta-Kum-Ta.
"That's it," Ted said. "A 4-year-old just delivered it to us!"
The name stuck and so did the mission. It's now the only camp in Northern New England that has a pediatric oncology staff on site.
"The parents have done a hell of a job," son Todd said. "Yeah, it's impressive where it once started and where it's ended up. It's a piece of heaven."
"My dreams could never come this high as they are right now," Ted said.
Ted is also a cancer survivor. The 72-year-old has been battling the disease for years. Not too long ago, he was close to death in the hospital when a young camper came to his side, holding his hand.
"All she kept saying was don't give up, don't give up. She brought me out of that," Ted said. "Sadly, about a month ago, we lost her."
Her name was Grace Emery and she was only 17.
"Just saying goodbye to any child is really, really tough," Ted said.
These campers know life can be hard, but the staff makes sure for this week these kids are, well, just kids.
"It's nice to know that other people are going through what you've gone through," said Megan Ardren of Essex.
Ted has no intention of retiring.
"I love this job!" he said.
And as long as his health is good, he will be cheering on the campers of Camp Ta-Kum-Ta.
"When I know they go out of here with a smile on their face and they're so tired they can't stay awake at the end of the driveway, we've succeeded," he said.
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