Night at Ravinia leaves childhood cancer survivors beaming
BY CYNTHIA WOLF For Sun-Times Media August 18, 2013 7:06PM
Aidan Stotz, 11, and Hannah Cassiday, 17, catch up during a special Children's Oncology Services Inc. event at Ravinia. Stotz and Cassiday have participated together in One-Step Camps for children with cancer. | CYNTHIA WOLF~FOR SUN-TIMES MEDIA
How to help
To support Children’s Oncology Services’s Share the Spirit campaign, visit rootfunding.com/campaign/share-the-spirit-2013 by Sept. 20.
To learn more about Children’s Oncology Services Inc. and its One-Step Camp programming, visit onestepcamp.org.
Updated: October 18, 2013 2:10AM
The event did not come together precisely as envisioned, but Children’s Oncology Services Inc. officials found a way to re-invent their Night at Ravinia into a celebration sure to be remembered.
“As we saw ticket sales not being as robust as we had hoped, we took it as an opportunity to open up this great venue to our families,” said Jeff Infusino, president of Children’s Oncology Services, which provides One-Step Camps for children with cancer.
The Night at Ravinia, which was held last Friday, was held in conjunction with a special showing of The Lord of the Rings “The Two Towers,” with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Lakeside Singers, Chicago Chorale and Chicago Children’s Choir performing the soundtrack live below the movie screen.
Tickets were $175 each to attend the showing, dinner and reception. When ticket sales flagged, Children’s Oncology Services chose to invite camper families — paying their way and shifting gears.
“Fourteen families are joining us, and we’re (making it) a celebration more than a fundraising event,” Infusino said.
Those attending clearly enjoyed the beautiful venue. At table after table, campers and their parents greeted one another with broad smiles.
Among them were Hannah Cassiday, 17, of Spring Grove, who jumped from her seat when fellow camper Aidan Stotz of Lindenhurst arrived. Stotz, 11, also beamed.
Cassiday was 7 years old when she was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. She underwent chemotherapy for a few years. The Grant High School student now is considered cancer free.
“I started attending camp almost immediately after I was diagnosed in April 2003,” she said. “I was so concerned about not having hair. I was like, finally, there are girls here who don’t have hair, either. There were girls who said, ‘Don’t wear that bandanna. You’ll be bald, you’ll be beautiful, and you’ll be just like most everyone else.’”
Cassiday said counselors at One-Step Camps, which take place in Williams Bay, Wis., and other locations, treat every participant as “absolutely adorable, regardless.”
“There’s no place that’s more accepting,” Cassiday said. “You have every outlet there. You learn to be yourself through this challenge — that it’s OK to go through this and you can cry, but you don’t need to cry at camp.
“You find that there are kids who are much (more sick) than you and much better than you, and it gives you hope, as well as sympathy and empathy.”
Cassiday added that she was grateful to be included in the Ravinia event.
“This is beautiful,” she said. “I don’t know how they did this, but it’s wonderful.”
Seated at the same table with Cassiday and Aidan was Robbie Dunk, 18, of Grayslake. He and his mom, Kathy, also were excited to be included in the event, and had nothing but glowing words for One-Step Camp experiences.
Robbie was diagnosed at age 5 with a Wilms tumor.
“He lost his right kidney and had a double metastasis, one to his lung and one to his brain, and he survived it all. In late 2004, he finished all of his treatments,” Kathy Dunk said. “He’s off to college this fall.”
Robbie said he is looking forward to attending George Williams College of Aurora University at Williams Bay, Wis., the same campus where a lot of One-Step Camp summer and winter programming takes place.
It’s a spot where Robbie already has built some great memories, he said.
“It’s great to see other survivors and people battling cancer (at the camps),” he said. “You can really talk through it with them and wish them luck, and it really cheers up the passion of the kids who are still going through cancer.”
Robbie plans to study parks and recreation, and wants to support One-Step Camps by becoming a counselor in the future.
At the dinner, Infusino introduced Hailey Danisewicz, Children’s Oncology Services’ development coordinator, who let everyone know about an ongoing fundraising campaign called “Share the Spirit.” Supporters are encouraged to go to rootfunding.com/campaign/share-the-spirit-2013 through Sept. 20, and to give $35 or more in honor of the organization’s 35th anniversary.
“We encourage you to share it with friends and families, and in doing so, to raise money to make this experience possible for even more people to participate,” Danisewicz said.
Children’s Oncology Services’ One-Step Camps serve children from Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, Indiana and Michigan, primarily on a referral basis from children’s hospitals in Chicago and Milwaukee.
Infusino, who took the agency helm about 13 months ago, said the work is near and dear to his heart. He lost his father to leukemia in 2010.
“When we used to go for his treatments, he told me, ‘Jeff, I’m 71 ... I don’t want to die, but it’s really not fair that these kids are sitting next to me in chemo,’” Infusino said. “I keep his legacy going by doing this work.”
For more information, and to learn about ways to help, visit onestepcamp.org.