Peaceable Kingdom: A Retreat Where Kids are Expected to be Kids

This weekend, I spent an afternoon with some staff and volunteers from the Children's Blood and Cancer Center as they took 30 kids from the Hungry Bunch teen support group on a weekend camping trip.

The drive there included a 15-mile stretch of prototypical two-lane Texas hill country highway: A mile will go by so desolate and devoid of life that you find yourself blowing off the idea of an encroaching overpopulation problem, while jaundiced weed growth in parched soil dominates the next mile. But just as you begin to feel desperate and alone, you curl a corner ... and Texas opens its glorious vault for you. A vast Utopian landscape appears in layers: swimming pool-blue skies sparkle over broccoli green shrubbery, hillsides undulate with a lazy camber over sprawling, sun-sweetened plains, and livestock graze behind long, sturdy wooden fences that are just uneven enough to have been the product of a rancher's busy hands.

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This is a peaceful kingdom; this is the Texas non-Texans hear so much about.

Children's retreat

Set within this inspiring terrain is the aptly named Peaceable Kingdom Retreat For Children, about an hour north of Austin.

Established in 1984 by Jim and Daurice Bowmer for chronically ill children and their families, this 120-acre hill country retreat was designed around, and is in operation specifically for, groups representing special-needs kids.

Run by Variety, the children's charity of Texas, Peaceable Kingdom currently serves more than 5,000 children each year.

The CBCC's trip is sponsored by both Superhero Kids, which I profiled here last week, and the Jennifer Wilks Foundation.

The zipline

I was at the camp to interview a couple of the volunteer camp counselors, and happened to arrive as their group was heading out to take part in the zipline.

There are three ways to the top of that tower: by climbing the wall (below), by taking the back ladder, or if you are unable to do either of these, the third option is to take the "elevator."

Either way, there's only one way down.

The "elevator" is actually your fellow campmates, who work together to pull you to the top.

Everyone who rode the zipline had different reactions — some loved it, some didn't — but they all shared at least one experience, and this was visible to me in the full range of photos. There is a moment immediately on leaving the platform that feels like an unsupported freefall. Whether told to expect it or not, few seemed entirely ready for it.

However, if the zipline began with a shot of panic, it often ended in Heisman trophy-like celebration.

They also took part in art therapy, archery and other activities. For many of the teenage members of the Hungry Bunch, events like this weekend retreat, and like the Prom, are rare, highly prized and appreciated opportunities for them to be young and care-free - a state of mind typically taken for granted, and one that cancer tries so hard to take from them.

[More pictures from the zipline can be viewed at my
Smugmug gallery.]

This is the seventh installment in my series on the Children's Blood and Cancer Center at Dell Children's Hospital in Austin, Texas. The first six are listed below:

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