A True Champion: Mary Pat Armstrong
40 years ago, Mary Pat Armstrong and a small group of volunteers had a spark of inspiration: What can we do to create a magical experience for kids with cancer?
The answer was loud and clear: Camp!
Mary Pat had a child with cancer, and she knew the importance of seeking moments of happiness for your child when they aren’t surrounded by doctors, nurses and needles.
Their vision for camp was a playground for kids that was safe, but protected. This led to the founding of Camp Ooch, which is today known as Campfire Circle.
“I remember in our first few years, we would tuck the kids into bed at night and then get together around the campfire and make plans for the next day,” says Mary Pat.
“Once, when we were totally out of ideas, someone suggested we have a ‘who can stand on one leg the longest’ contest. The game started and one kid hopped up and said, with all the confidence in the world: ‘I’ve only got one leg and I do this all the time. You should all just give up now because I’m going to win this for sure.’ Laughter boomed across the lake. It was probably the first time in her life that she was happy to have an amputation.”
Expanding our Wings
Fast forward to 2014, when she was asked to contribute to the Campfire Circle Muskoka expansion campaign.
Before the project began, Mary Pat toured camp with CEO Alex Robertson. She understood right away the need for more camper housing, improved accessibility and a more sophisticated medical facility. Choosing to support and name a wellness room was important to Mary Pat. She explains, “I love the concept of wellness and that’s what a camp for kids with cancer or serious illness is about.”
After seeing the finished Muskoka site, Mary Pat was happy with the results. “It’s a lot more accommodating. It’s more than a camp now. It’s a haven to go to, relax and have fun,” she says.
Celebrating 40 Years
To this day, Mary Pat continues to be a champion for Campfire Circle, helping to carry out its mission to reach every kid affected by childhood cancer or serious illness in Ontario.
“Today, I am so proud of this organization. And I love that, at the core, camp is still about creating awesome experiences for kids living a life that no kid is meant to live. Where any kid affected by cancer or serious illness can feel like a kid again, and just be themselves, knowing they are going to be accepted and understood. Camp gives them something to dive into in the moment, and also memories to carry with them throughout their journey,” says Mary Pat.
In honour of Campfire Circle’s 40th anniversary, Mary Pat and her husband Bob are matching all Spark Club monthly donations to the organization for the rest of the year.
Her message to donors is simple: “Camp is part of our story, and when you join as part of the Spark Club, you also become a part of the story every day, week and month of the year. Our spark of inspiration 40 years ago is growing into a roaring fire—thanks to kind and compassionate people like you.”
And for campers, Mary Pat’s message to kids with cancer or serious illness remains the same:
“Soak in as much of the camp experience as you can each day, day by day. Always have hope for the next day.”
Thank you, Mary Pat Armstrong, co-founder, volunteer and donor, for all your dedication and contribution to Campfire Circle.