Val (Hoppy) Hopwood first bounded into our lives at Kids Cancer Care in 2006. Since that time, she has volunteered every year with one exception. “I’ve volunteered at camp every single year except for the year I was married.” Even though she was planning a wedding, scheduled for the week after camp, Val was determined to volunteer. But when her mother suffered a stroke, Val was forced to concede and accept that camp just wasn’t in the cards that summer.
A paramedic of 21 years, Val was first introduced to Kids Cancer Care by a former Kids Cancer Care volunteer and paramedic Brent Chiswell, who sadly passed away from cancer a few years ago. While Brent introduced Val to Kids Cancer Care, it was another volunteer Ernie Greenwood who inspired her most.
“Ernie is such a great guy,” she says. “He was retired and going out to camp every summer as a one-to-one aide. I used to think, ‘If he can do, I can too.’” And she did.
After a two-year hiatus during the pandemic, Val is looking forward to camp this summer. “It’s one week that I can act like a kid without anyone judging me. I love it. I plan my summer around camp every year.”
When asked what keeps her coming back year after year, Val’s response is unequivocal. “Every year, I learn something new from the kids. They teach me that life isn’t so bad. I get upset over a bad hair day and then I see a child hiking with an artificial limb without complaint and it puts everything into perspective for me. They’re really remarkable kids.”
This is Shalaka, a.k.a. Galaxy. She’s a med student at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom. When Shalaka’s not poring over medical books and preparing for exams, she’s back at home in Calgary where she volunteers for Kids Cancer Care. No wonder her camp name is Galaxy. She travels a lot.
Shalaka first learned about Kids Cancer Care in 2017 through a colleague of her mother’s who was impressed with the foundation. Shalaka was intrigued. She had worked with children at the YMCA as a lifeguard and swim instructor and loved it. She figured Kids Cancer Care would be a great fit. And so it is!
“Kids Cancer Care programs and events are so well run,” says Shalaka. “It’s a great experience for me as a volunteer and an excellent way to connect with like-minded youth while making a difference in the lives of children and families touched by cancer. On top of all this, I have a great time!”
Shalaka started volunteering in 2017 with our summer camp programs at Camp Kindle. In 2018 and 2019, she volunteered for our SunRise day camps, and during the pandemic, she volunteered for our virtual programs. She was also one of the dedicated volunteers who drove around Calgary, delivering special packages to families to enhance their online program experiences during COVID-19.
As a volunteer, the most memorable moments for Shalaka are the ones where she sees personal growth in the kiddos. “At SunRise, I was a one-to-one aide for a young autistic boy,” she says. “He wanted to be carried everywhere and wasn’t eager to participate in any of the games and activities. I am a small person, so it was a bit of a challenge to carry him all day, but eventually, as we got to know each other, I was able to convince him to walk more and participate in the activities, and enjoy camp more. Seeing his smile was absolutely amazing and knowing I had made a difference was beyond rewarding.”
As she wraps up her spring school term, Shalaka is getting excited to return home and volunteer again. “I am so looking forward to interacting with kids in person at SunRise this year, especially after a gap of two years. The camp is so much fun for the children and it is amazing to have the bonding with other Kids Cancer Care volunteers. Can’t wait!”