The team at Great Escape have been proud supporters of the Kyle Andrews Foundation since its very early days.
The Foundation provides support for families with children undergoing treatment for cancer, suffering ongoing medical conditions or families that may have had a recent bereavement. They provide an annual Broome camp, run two self contained houses for sick children and their families plus currently building a retreat for families in Busselton in Western Australia. In this interview, we talk with Roger Lewis about the work of the foundation.
How did the Foundation come about?
In 1997, Kyle Andrews was going through his medical treatment, and the local community in Broome ran a fundraiser at the Sun Pictures. Lisa and I went along because we knew Kyle’s parents and we were keen to show our support. It was a very successful event.
At that event Kyle’s father, Jero, told us that his son felt so much better when he came back to Broome and got to sit on the beach. He told his Dad "Look, this makes me feel much better. Wouldn't it be good if we could get the kids from Ward 3B to come to Broome to sit on the beach. It would make them feel better too."
At that event I said, "Look, if you can get some airfares, I'm sure that we'll get people to help us, and we'll run the camp for you." In 1998, that's exactly what happened. The Australian Workers Union bought all the tickets in the first year and we had lots of donations from various people around Broome. We ran that first camp and we were really struggling dealing with sick kids, because we had some very sick kids that year, Kyle being one of the sickest. Still we tried to focus on treating them as kids first and we were guided by the wonderful PMH staff who came with the kids.
We had such an amazing response from all the tour operators in Broome. The kids came to Broome and had the absolute time of their lives. At that early stage, we only intended to run one camp, end of story. We wanted Kyle to see his dream come true. It was so successful that we decided we'd run it again the following year, and that's how we got started.
Unfortunately, three weeks after that first camp, Kyle passed away. It was a great comfort to all of us that he’d absolutely loved the camp experience, and that it meant the world to him. His group were a very close knit group of kids. Most of them knew each other from the hospital, and that tends not to be the case in most camps.
We ran the camp again in 1999 and had amazing feedback from the children’s parents. Based on that feedback, a group of us sat down and said, "Well, if we're going to do this each year, let's incorporate ourselves as a charity, and then people that are giving all these fantastic donations can then claim it as a tax deduction." In 2000, the Kyle Andrews Foundation was born.
"we tried to focus on treating them as kids first and we were guided by the wonderful PMH staff who came with the kids."
"The families get a break from the stressful hospital and treatment routine."
A Break For The Family
I think it works so well because we treat kids as kids and focus on fun things. The families get a break from the stressful hospital and treatment routine. We are very aware that it is a big call for families to let the kids go, especially when they're sick and they don't know how much time they've got left. We try to give families a lot of support. Someone at the camp will ring or text the parents every day. They send emails and photos to try to allay their fears. A
Transformation in The Children
We find that in a short time the kids start reacting like kids on camp. They still have to do jobs like everyone else, and we fit around their capacity to be able to do that. Probably the greatest thing is that they meet other kids who have similar experiences who know exactly what they're saying. There's always someone who's worse off than you. Very early in the piece, the kids were sitting there talking about their treatments, and they sound like little old people. Their experiences have made them old before their time. The conversation that was going around the dormitory was, "Oh, well what have you had done?" They were all talking about it. It got to the last kid, and they asked him what he had done. He said, "Well, you know what you've had? Well, I've had it twice."
It's a normalising experience to meet people who have had to face worse treatment than you have and see that they get through. We had a kid on camp this year who hasn't had cancer for a number of years, but she has ongoing problems because of the chemo. She was almost embarrassed that she's had cancer because she's different from everyone else, and doesn't like to talk about it. On camp she met all these kids, and realised that she doesn't need to feel embarrassed. Later we had a letter from her Mum saying we've re-sparked her life.
Who Can Attend Camp?
When we started, it was for kids with cancer. Lately, it seems to be more brain cancer than anything else. We’ve extended it to kids with ongoing diseases. In terms of criteria, if a kid is in PCH, and they would benefit from coming to Kyle's Camp, they're welcome to come if we have a place.
The choice of who comes is ultimately made by the nursing staff at Perth Children's Hospital because they're the ones who know where the kids are up to in their treatment and who's strong enough to travel for a week to go away. If we get a parent reaching out to us, we refer them to the Children’s Hospital for the nursing staff to decide if and when they should come because priority is given to children with the most desperate needs.
How The Foundation Is Funded
The Foundation is totally funded by our own fundraising and donations. We're all volunteers, we don't employ anybody. Our administration cost is probably less than 1%. We fundraise every year, doing various activities. Last year in Broome we had a pentathlon. We run raffles, we're planning to run a Perth function in March next year. We're pretty excited because we're the major recipient of the Gibb River Ride next year. and so we're working hard on how we can support them and they can support us.
How Business Can Support The Foundation
Businesses can get involved by giving us prizes for our raffles. A major raffle last year raised $40,000. Broome businesses, particularly the tourist operators, sponsor the kids activities, and the Great Escape has been an amazing part of our camp for over 20 years. We choose a date for our camp that coincides with the vessel being in Broome for a day.
Right at the start Chris Tucker (Trippy) from Great Escape said to me "Look, why don't we put all your kids on my boat and take them out for the day?" We've been doing that for the last 20 years. We've stopped actually asking the kids what's the best thing on camp, because they all say the same thing, the day out on Great Escape.
We schedule the Great Escape experience for the second day of the camp after they’ve adjusted to the new camp environment. They just have an amazing time, being dragged around in tubes, just lounging in the front of the boat in the sun, getting in the spa, just being able to really appreciate the luxury of that magnificent boat. Relaxing like this really binds them together as a group. They start to get to know each other. They swim off the side of the boat. They get to jump off the side of the boat.
I had a little boy this year who had a gastric tube, and all he wanted to do when he got on the boat, because he didn't have time to sit around, he needed to do things. He just wanted to jump off the side of the boat. So he sat on the edge of the boat, and dropped in with a carer. It was just fantastic for him. He just thought that was just the best thing he'd ever done. Kylie and Chris give us a day on that boat every year and it is always fantastic. It's just a great way to start a camp and we are very grateful for their support.
We have a group called the Friends of Kyle Andrews. Our website wwwkyleandrewsfoundation.com.au has details of how people can contact us and get involved. Once people get in touch we put them on a list so we can let them know when events are coming up. There’s usually a range of options for helping out.
What Camps Can Achieve
It is so powerful to see the impact of the camp on children’s morale, confidence and sometimes even on their determination to literally take the next step. The first year we ever ran it, we had a young fellow Luke, who'd been in a wheelchair for months as a result of cancer in his leg. He came to camp, got pushed everywhere in his wheelchair and then decided that he wanted to be with the other kids. He walked back through the airport to his Mum.
His Mum and Dad just couldn't believe he was up and walking. We've had two kids do the same thing. That's the difference. Being with the other kids can be a real game-changer. A lot of parents have said that the camp reignites their zest for life, and I've heard that from lots of families. We get the most heartwarming texts and emails and I share those with our sponsors. The camps work their magic because they give very sick kids a chance to relax, connect with others and have fun together.
Visit: Kyle Andrews Foundation
"We've stopped actually asking the kids what's the best thing on camp, because they all say the same thing, the day out on Great Escape."