A vision of a large metal cross covered with keys inscribed with names appeared to Lisa Kujawa in 2014.
She was at a low point, hosting a fundraiser that had been disappointingly lackluster, and was actually praying that God would erase her dream of establishing a campground for children suffering from cancer.
A campground for kids with cancer would let them feel normal.
“I didn’t want to do it anymore,” Kujawa said. “It was too hard.” Then she saw the cross.
“Two minutes later, a lady calls, asking for fliers on the fundraiser and wanting to participate,” she said. “I was reminded that anything was possible.”
Furthermore, the caller worked for a welding company and, inspired by Kujawa’s vision, determined to provide a 9-foot, 300-pound cross. Someone else donated flawed car ignition keys, headed for scrap, and which are now stored in Kujawa’s garage. Ten thousand of them. Now, when a person contributes toward the purchase of the campground, his or her name is inscribed on a key, which is then affixed to the cross…just like in Kujawa’s vision.
“I have room on the cross for more keys,” she added. “It’s hard to fundraise for something you don’t have yet.”
Even so, Kujawa is aiming for an April 16th deadline to acquire the remaining $25,000 she needs to buy land in Muskegon, Michigan. That’s where she wishes to launch The Golden Key Camp and Park, a year-round camp designed for children with cancer and their families.
Its name was chosen because gold is the ribbon color selected by The Childhood Cancer Organization to provide public awareness of childhood cancer, and because while considering names for her camp, Kujawa found four sets of lost keys in two days and heard phrases like “the key to happiness,” which jumped out at her.
Kujawa, a person of faith, believes in signs.
Her fundraising has included sponsored “Shore to Shore” bike rides, “Soup and a Dollar” campaigns – the soup goes to the homeless – and selling T-shirts that say “Stop Childhood Cancer.”
Camp plans include an arts and crafts building, a chapel, a clubhouse, a camping area for visiting families to park their campers or RVs, and a one-mile nature trail for the children.
“I want to encourage outdoor activity,” Kujawa said, “and plan to have adaptive equipment along the trail, like a wheelchair-accessible swing set and teeter-totter, even equipment geared for children with missing limbs or who have special needs that may have limited them playing at a typical park.”
Trista Kirby of Taylor is sold on the idea. The 10-year-old and youngest of five children in the Kirby family, is coping with a second round of acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL).
“It’s good for (children with cancer) to have something to do, to get their minds off things, so they won’t have a hard time and not put stress on their bodies,” said Trista, who sports a small heart shaved into the right side of her short-cropped, dark hair. In a remarkable coincidence, Kujawa met Trista, the ideal candidate for Kujawa’s future camp, through Trista’s former kitten, Spunky, in June of 2016.
“Cat scratch fever is a real thing,” Trista said. Fragile because cancer had compromised her immune system, Trista became feverish after Spunky scratched her leg, resulting in the child’s hospitalization.
Following the incident, Trista’s mother, Kristen Kirby, put a plea out on Facebook, asking for someone to provide a good home for the high-energy kitten. Kujawa, a friend of Kristen’s stepmother, saw the post and answered that request.
Kirby said, “People think that childhood cancer is so rare, but that’s not true. And a camp would let these children feel normal. I can’t stress the importance of that enough.”
Kirby hopes that when Kujawa’s camp is complete, that Trista can participate not as an ill child in need of its offerings, but as a volunteer. “Trista likes to help others, to work with kids. At the camp, she could share her story with others, be an encouragement.”
To order a T-shirt, call Kujawa at 313-363-8610, or mail a check to her for $25, plus a $3 mailing fee, at 21660 Hunter Circle N, Taylor, MI 48180. To contribute directly to the campground for children with cancer, like Trista Kirby, make a donation to paypal.me/goldenkey