Thirty Years of Inspiration and Friendship at Camp Bluebird
The first year Deb McKenna went to Camp Bluebird, the volunteers had chosen There’s No Place Like Bluebird as the theme that weekend. They had decorated everything according to theme, and McKenna recalls there were even people dressed as characters from The Wizard of Oz. She felt relieved to see such a fun and welcoming atmosphere, because she had convinced her dear friend, Glenda Holifield, to join her at Camp Bluebird.
“Glenda had been really upset and depressed, and a co-worker told me the camp would do her a lot of good. At first, Glenda said, no. I kept mentioning it, and she finally agreed to go. She went and had the best time and really bonded with some of the people she met there. The girls at this Cancer Center were so good to Glenda,” said McKenna.
Holifield suffered from pancreatic cancer, and like many patients with the illness, struggled with the emotional effects of cancer as much as the fatigue and sickness that sometimes accompanies treatment. Camp Bluebird, the first camp for adult cancer patients and survivors in Mississippi, is a two and one-half day camp held annually at Paul B. Johnson State Park. It includes recreational activities, social events, devotional and educational opportunities designed to minister to the whole person with fun and fellowship.
Deb McKenna in front of her quilt at the
Forrest General Cancer Center.
“Camp Bluebird is an atmosphere where there is a little piece of Heaven for our campers; where they can talk to other people who have the same disease as they do. It’s like a huge, caring support group. Our campers spend little time dwelling on their disease when attending Camp Bluebird, because they are having so much fun! Losing oneself in beautiful surroundings helps,” said Joe Marcello, oncology service line administrator at Forrest General Cancer Center.
Located in the heart of Mississippi's Pine Belt region, Paul B. Johnson State Park is replete with majestic long-leaf and loblolly pines, delicate dogwoods and ancient oaks.
“When they come to camp, they don’t think about their cancer struggle, because they embrace themselves in the beautiful surroundings of the park and the love and compassion from the Camp Bluebird staff, counselors, and workers,” Marcello said.
After her weekend at Camp Bluebird, Holifield decided to resume treatment at Forrest General’s Cancer Center. It delighted her to see some of the people she’d grown so close to over that weekend including her doctor’s nurse, Stephanie Dearman, RN, who had dressed as Dorothy at camp. That weekend also made a big impression on McKenna.
She said, “They played Bingo at camp, and they had all of these prizes they were giving away. I kept thinking, ‘Next year, I want to do more than just go.’”
McKenna got the idea to make t-shirt quilts to give away as door prizes at Camp Bluebird the following year. Marcello collected enough t-shirts from previous years for McKenna to make 4 quilts. In February 2018, during the time McKenna was making the quilts for camp, Holifield passed away.
“I told Joe that it was really therapeutic for me. I just felt like it was something that would honor her. She just loved the time we spent there,” McKenna said.
Today, one of McKenna’s beautiful quilts hangs in the Forrest General Cancer Center with a small gold plaque that says, “In Loving Memory of Glenda Holifield.” She’s working on her quilts for this year’s Camp Bluebird and looks forward to going back as a counselor.
Now in its thirtieth year, Camp Bluebird is staffed completely by volunteers, counselors, and healthcare personnel, and Forrest General is still welcoming community volunteers to participate. The purpose of the camp is to promote a sense of well-being among campers, teach them how to live with cancer and cancer treatments and to provide a time of rest and relaxation.
“If anyone has time to spare, Camp Bluebird is worth every minute. It means so much to the people who go there. It gives them such a lift, and they are treated so special. Usually, they’ve been through so much, and the camp just gives them a break,” said McKenna.
Volunteer at Camp Bluebird: April 12-14, 2019
Camp Bluebird 2019 needs volunteers to as counselors and in other roles. To sign up to be a counselor, or to get more information, contact Joe Marcello, oncology service line administrator at Forrest General.
This year’s Camp Bluebird will be held Friday, April 12, through Sunday, April 14. For more information on volunteering as a counselor or to be part of this amazing opportunity, contact Joe Marcello, oncology service line administrator at Forrest General, at 601-288-1612 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Caption: Camp Bluebird group photo of volunteers, counselors, and campers from 2017, which was the year McKenna and Holifield attended together.