Snellville cancer survivor sees work at Camp Twin Lakes as a way to give back

By Chris Starrs

Staff Correspondent

With a childhood that included two bouts with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, Mikaela “KB” Beck is all too familiar with the ravages of cancer. Fortunately, she’s also more than familiar with the healing influence of Camp Twin Lakes, which this year commemorated its 25th anniversary.

Beck, 20, a Snellville resident, was first diagnosed with ALL in 2005 but admitted she doesn’t have a lot of memories of the early years of her battle. But she does remember that at the age of 7, she was able to go for the first time to Camp Sunshine, a camp founded in 1982 for children with cancer, which is held each summer at Camp Twin Lakes’ Rutledge facility.

“I started going the first year I was eligible, which was when I was 7,” she said. “I know that my mom signed me up and she was scared for me to leave for that first week because you don’t have any contact and things like that. But I wasn’t scared. I was very open to it, especially when I was younger.

“When you go, you meet a bunch of kids that are just like you, but you really don’t know what to expect. It was like a great venture out — you have fun and you don’t have to worry about anything. You can get chemo at camp, and I did that a couple of times.”

Since 1993, Camp Twin Lakes has offered an oasis of activities to children parched from physical and emotional disorders and other life challenges. According to its website, thousands of young people have been able to partake in the nonprofit’s offerings.

With programs that instruct — in all kinds of ways — the value of overcoming the combined roadblocks of being young and being ill, the network of locations that comprise Camp Twin Lakes is renowned for its “transformative” experiences, made with the help of some 3,500 volunteers.

Beck, who has been cancer-free for the last six years, was so taken with Camp Twin Lakes that she spent last summer on the staff there.

“I’ve been to Camp Sunshine for 12 years, and then this past summer I became a program staff member at Camp Twin Lakes,” she said. “Three whole months.”

With a career plan that includes working as a nurse, Beck said there was one key reason why she signed on at Camp Twin Lakes.

“I’ve always wanted to volunteer for Camp Sunshine, but considering that I want to be a pediatric nurse, I wanted to be involved with different populations,” she said. “At Camp Twin Lakes, there’s a wide range of populations you work with.”

She said she also wanted to give something back to the locale that helped and encouraged her to keep fighting and to keep living.

“It’s different when you’re young and you’re there with your friends and they’re doing everything to make sure you have a great experience and you have the best week,” said Beck, who worked at Camp Twin Lakes Will-A-Way in Winder. “And that’s the goal — to give that back to the next child. That’s something I’ll always remember ... Camp can change lives in the most positive of ways. My 12 years at camp allowed me to get a different perspective and grow into the vibrant, spontaneous, compassionate person I am today. The opportunity to return as a counselor allows me to reinvest the power of my experiences as a former camper to new campers.”

Campers are usually on site for a week, but for the individuals who work and volunteer at Camp Twin Lakes, the summer at times seems never-ending.

“It’s definitely different; it’s a lot of work,” she said. “We have two weeks of training, and there are like 14-hour days because there’s so much to do and learn. I didn’t know I needed to know so much to be a part of it. It’s just camp after camp, and it’s definitely worth it. It doesn’t feel like a job.”

For Beck, working at Camp Twin Lakes affected her so much that she’s applied to work there again next summer. There are a variety of volunteer opportunities throughout the year at Camp Twin Lakes. For more information, visit www.camptwinlakes.org.