Love is in the air, and this Valentine’s season, KCN Campgrounds’ Sweetwater Tennessee KOA Holiday is sharing the love by partnering with Sticks from the Yard and Care Camps to raise funds for kids with cancer.
In an exclusive interview with Modern Campground, Jake TerMeer, the park’s manager underscored the power of giving back and how campgrounds can utilize activities within the park to give back for the greater good.
“It’s creativity, thinking outside of the box as to how you can get people involved, because whether it’s a small family or a business, everybody’s willing to participate if they have even just a little bit of something to give,” TerMeer said.
Sweetwater KOA is a modestly sized campground that features fewer than 60 RV sites and nine cabins. Yet, the park goes big in prioritizing serving returning guests, particularly families and children, throughout the summer season.
According to TerMeer, the campground hosts numerous children’s activities, with major holiday weekends and Halloween being among the busiest times of the year. The foam cannon, slip and slide and train rides at the campground are all favorites for families, their children and Jake and his team alike.
Located conveniently off Interstate 75, Sweetwater KOA serves as a popular stopover for snowbirds traveling south from northern states such as Michigan and Ohio during the spring and fall seasons. This strategic location makes it an ideal halfway point for travelers seeking a break from their journey.
The He(art) of Giving
This love month, Sweetwater KOA tied up with Sticks from the Yard, a website operated by individuals incarcerated within the Ohio State penitentiary system. Sticks from the Yard aims to support inmates’ artistic endeavors, allowing them to sell their artwork and gain financial independence without relying on family support.
“I had a phone call with a buddy of mine and I was telling him about Care Camps, and he was stoked. He’s like, ‘We want to get involved. We’ve got some artwork pieces that we’d love to donate for your silent auction this year,’” TerMeer added.
The donated items include hand-crocheted teddy bears adorned with hearts, accompanied by love poems, and red and white roses made from toilet paper. These creations are being sold at the campground’s store and will also be available at a booth in downtown Sweetwater ahead of Valentine’s Day.
When asked how Sweetwater KOA became involved with Care Camps and its fundraising initiatives, Jake underscored a long-standing partnership.
According to Ter Meer, raising funds for Care Camps has been a focal point for Sweetwater KOA since its acquisition by TerMeer’s parents in 2016. Under the stewardship of his parents, the campground has significantly contributed to Care Camps every year, enhancing fundraising efforts annually to support the cause.
“Care Camps has been a part of KOA for decades, and my parents, when they bought the campground in 2016, really embraced what Care Camps was all about. They really took charge of boosting things that we do here within the park to try to gather those funds together each and every year and get better and better every year,” the park manager highlighted.
One of the primary fundraising activities at Sweetwater Valley KOA is the hosting of pancake breakfasts every Saturday during the summer months. These events have consistently been the most significant source of donations for Care Camps, reflecting the community’s commitment to aiding children with cancer.
TerMeer, who began managing the campground in 2022, shares the same dedication to Care Camps as his parents and the campground staff, some of whom are cancer survivors themselves. This personal connection to the cause has fueled a collective passion for supporting Care Camps among the staff and the broader campground community.
The park’s legacy is echoed by Care Camps’ Executive Director Gwynn Sullivan. Sullivan highlighted the significant role of Sweetwater KOA in the organization’s fundraising efforts.
“Sweetwater KOA is one of many KOA campgrounds that fundraise for Care Camps. Care Camps was started by a caring group of KOA campground owners that began fundraising in 1984, to support pediatric oncology camps who serve children with cancer. Jake and Sweetwater KOA are a continuation of that legacy,” Sullivan told Modern Campground in an exclusive interview.
Nate Thompson, a partner at KCN Campgrounds which owns Sweetwater KOA, underscored the significance of the fundraising effort for KCN, stating, “Supporting children with cancer is a critical focus for KCN. It’s so important for them to get time outside the hospital and their treatments where they can just be kids. One of my daughters battled leukemia (and survived, thankfully), so I know first-hand how hard this is for both these kids and their families. At KCN we’re committed to doing everything we can to help with this mission at each of our campground properties, and in 2023 we fundraised and donated over $30,000 to Care Camps. Jake has been a cheerleader for this cause within KCN and we’re excited to beat this number in 2024!”
“It’s Do or Die”
When asked what fundraising for Care Camps meant to him, TerMeer reflected on the challenges faced by these children, emphasizing the profound impact of their struggles on his perspective and motivation.
TerMeer’s involvement with Care Camps became especially meaningful after attending a convention in 2022, where he was confronted with the harsh realities children diagnosed with cancer endure. The possibility that some may not reach adulthood or face continuous hardships resonated deeply with him, highlighting the stark contrast to his own life experiences.
“For me, when I think about raising money for this charity, it’s do or die, because there’s no amount of effort or energy that I can ever put into it that’s ever going to be enough to take away the things that they have to go through in life,” TerMeer said.
“No children ever deserve that. It’s just, [that] children deserve, even in the situation that they have, to make the best of it. So for me, it’s whatever I can do to make that just a little bit better for them each and every day,” he added.
The power of partnerships for the greater good
Gwynn Sullivan, executive director of Care Camps emphasized the importance of leveraging community partnerships to enhance the mission’s reach and impact.
She highlighted the successful collaboration between Sweetwater KOA and Sticks from the Yard as an example of how partnerships can significantly aid in raising funds for Care Camps.
This approach not only broadens the support network for the charity but also amplifies the opportunities for more children and families to benefit from the unique experiences offered by pediatric oncology camps.
Sullivan outlined several ways individuals and organizations, including other campgrounds and RV parks, can support the charity’s mission to fund pediatric oncology camps across the United States and Canada.
To contribute to this cause, Sullivan suggests making a donation directly through the Care Camps website at carecamps.org.
The website also offers a fundraising toolkit, especially useful for campground owners, featuring a variety of fundraising ideas, step-by-step guides for each suggested fundraiser, and ready-to-use marketing and event materials. These resources are designed to facilitate campground owners in organizing their fundraising events.