The mission of Camp Dream Street is to enable children with cancer and other diseases to enjoy activities that might otherwise be unavailable to them. There is an unusually high counselor-to-camper ratio and a full-time medical staff at each location. Medical trailers function as mini hospitals where nurses and doctors administer IVs and other medication; no one misses a treatment.

Theatrical producer Patty Grubman and her brother, Billy Grubman, founded the all-volunteer Dream Street Foundation in 1988. Its sleep away camps are often held in cooperation with luxury venues such as Canyon Ranch resorts, thus providing ideal locations. Currently, there are camps in Arizona, Arkansas, California, and Mississippi, as well as the camp I was visiting in New Jersey. The first camp hosted 42 campers. Today, more than 750 children and adolescents age 4 to 24 years from throughout the United States and other countries attend the camp sessions each summer, at no cost to them or their families. Many campers are from low-income families. The foundation also provides air transportation free of charge when necessary.

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Older campers are welcome at the camp at Canyon Ranch in Tucson, Arizona, which hosts young adults age 17 to 21 years. The structure for these young people is somewhat different. These campers are in the throes of adolescence; therefore, in addition to offering camping activities and medical care, there is an emphasis on helping them deal with age-appropriate issues such as anger, family dynamics, self-image, and peer pressure.

No one is different here. The campers say that one of the wonderful things about Camp Dream Street is that they do not have to explain their illness to anyone. One camper said, “You feel surrounded by people who understand, who care. It’s excellent. They make you feel like you’re important.”

Dream Street co-founder Billy Grubman explains, “They’ve got a disease they don’t want, treatment they hate. It’s painful.… We free them from that. We give them the chance to do what they want to do. What other kids do.”


These campers actually do many of the same activities as other kids do. The camps offer normal camping activities such as arts and crafts, swimming, and horseback riding—with volunteers to accompany them and help as needed. For one camper, being in the water with the assistance of her counselors meant that she was able to stand for the first time in years. Counselors also help campers lift weights, dance, even zoom along on a zip line. They hold dog shows, carnivals, acrobatic performances, barbecues, and dances. It’s a full week, crammed with pleasant things for a change. Many campers do so well that they come back each summer, and some even go on to become counselors. As one camper wrote in a thank you letter to Canyon Ranch and Dream Street, “In the past seven days I have done so much more than I ever thought myself capable of, that it has been almost like I’ve been given my body back.”

For more information on Camp Dream Street, plus upcoming events, news, and volunteering at a Dream Street camp, visit www.dreamstreetfoundation.org.

Bette Weinstein Kaplan is a medical writer based in Tenafly, New Jersey. 


1. Fedunak S. Empathy specialty of Dream Street [The Arizona Daily Star]. Dream Street Foundation Web site. http://www.dreamstreetfoundation.org/docs/p007a-media-001-arizona-daily-star.pdf. Accessed September 5, 2014.

2. Braunstein M. Dreams of a Dream Street Camper [Canyon Ranch Roundup]. Dream Street Foundation Web site. http://www.dreamstreetfoundation.org/docs/p007a-media-003-canyon-ranch-roundup.pdf. Accessed September 5, 2014.