KILLEEN, Texas (FOX 44) – Childhood cancer survivor and Peaceable Kingdom by Variety Program Facilitator Drew Schmidt has a message for everyone and anyone who is listening.
“Out in the rest of the world, 90% of the time, our campers feel different from everyone else. If they have diabetes, or use a wheelchair, or are like me – a cancer patient and survivor – people’s first instinct is to stare or treat you differently or assume you are somehow limited because of your disability or challenges.”
Schmidt continues, “At school, these kids are given such a wide birth that being isolated and ridiculed has become their normal. But at Peaceable Kingdom, it’s different. There are no stigmas and no limits here.”
This might be his first “real” full-time gig, but it is definitely a dream job for the former camper.
Drew was diagnosed with Stage 1 Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia at just 4-years-old. Thankfully, the chemotherapy and treatment protocols were successful and the pediatric cancer patient became a pediatric cancer survivor.
Drew was introduced to a summer camp for children who had been diagnosed with cancer by his pediatric oncology team, where at camp, he found his calling.
Peaceable Kingdom by Variety, in Killeen, TX, is a retreat for thousands of children exploring their self-reliance and mobility each year. In support of its mission of healing through nature, the 122 acres have been tailored to accommodate all campers’ needs.
Schmidt would spend his summers with Camp Dreamcatcher for the next ten years until he aged out of the program in 2015. During high school summer breaks, Drew worked part-time as a visiting camp counselor and then became part of the summer staff at Peaceable Kingdom.
In June, Drew celebrated his one-year anniversary as a full-time member of the Variety of Texas team.
As a Peaceable Kingdom by Variety Program Facilitator, Drew is responsible for bringing Variety’s programs to life.
“He has so much energy,” said Variety of Texas Executive Director, Stacy Bruce. “Drew keeps up with a wickedly punishing calendar of summer camps, family retreats, empowerment seminars, and educational field trips happening year-round. He is a bright light that shines every day for our kids.”
Summer 2022 officially kicked off on Monday, June 20, with the arrival of hundreds of campers and volunteers from Camp Bluebonnet for their 20th summer at Peaceable Kingdom.
This week, Schmidt will be working with medically fragile children who have a type-1 diabetes diagnosis. Next week, he will be facilitating communication games and leadership development activities for at-risk high school students who live in low-income areas. Later this summer, he will use tactile sign language to help deaf and blind campers and caregivers soar down the 40-foot zip line.
According to Drew, every week, every camp, and every child is unique.
“When a school bus pulls up through our gates, I see kids who are excited to try new challenges, make memories, and have fun,” said Schmidt. “At PK, you can have one hand or limited hearing or no use of your legs or live with an autism diagnosis or Down syndrome … and, we will treat you like a camper. We see the kid, not the special need. We adapt to them so they can succeed.
Accessibility and adaptability: that’s why summer camp at PK is so special.”
Peaceable Kingdom has become a place where kids of all abilities can make new friends, learn new things, and challenge their personal limits while they discover the benefits of spending time in nature.
For more information about the organization, you can visit here.