Camp for children with cancer prepares for 14th year in Gulf County

Melinda Mayton can remember driving into Windmark Beach for the first time — the neat rows of houses and clean landscaping immediately bringing her a sense of calmness.

“I’ve been a pediatric nurse since 1987. And I have cared for so many of these families and watched what happens along their journey and just, they’re weary and they’re tired. And they need a little hope and sunshine and love,” she said. “And I was envisioning, when I was pulling in there, what it would be like for one of those families to pull down that drive and see just the beauty all around them.”

Mayton has been bringing families of children with cancer and other serious illnesses down to Gulf County for week-long stays several times a year for more than a decade.

The camp, called Blue Skies, offers a unique experience to these families and these children, who Mayton said can often be starved of normalcy.

“Sometime during our first year there, this teenage boy came down, and his dad came up to me and he was at the pool, and I didn’t think much about it, but he had a device in his chest where he got IVs and things,” she reminisced. “And (the boy) had a shirt off and he was swimming with the other kinds, and his dad came up to me in tears. And he said ‘I have not seen him without a shirt since he was diagnosed because he has just not felt comfortable.’”

“The families and the kids just feel safe here.”

Mayton said she first started the camp to provide a sense of sanctuary to the children and families struggling through difficult diagnoses.

Now, preparing to host campers in Gulf County for their 14th year, Mayton said the organization is in need of some help from the local community.

Namely, the houses normally rented out to the camp have been converted to long-term rentals, and Blue Skies is asking Windmark Beach homeowners to consider lending their homes to the program.

“We’ve always rented condos there at Winmark, and those are now becoming long term rentals,” Mayton said. “And so for 13 years and 80 camps, that’s all we’ve known. And so now we’re going to try to stay in homes, and then that almost doubled our budget to pay for the houses.”

But while housing is a dire need for the campers, Mayton said there are several other ways locals can get involved, including donating activities or services through a business or registering to volunteer through the organization’s website.

Mayton is confident the camp will be able to meet its goals, stating that the community has been stepping up for the organization and the campers who participate in the program for years.

“I really have so much gratitude for Port St. Joe and that town,” she said,” for all they have done to help us come back year after year.”

“I feel like it’s my home, honestly.”

For more information about Blue Skies, visit Those in the Windmark community who are able to discount their homes for the camp and wish to do so can reach out to Mayton at [email protected].

Meet the Editor

Wendy Weitzel, The Star’s digital editor, joined the news outlet in August 2021, as a reporter covering primarily Gulf County.

Prior to then, she interned for Oklahoma-based news wire service Gaylord News and for Oklahoma City-based online newspaper during her four years at the University of Oklahoma, from which she graduated in May with degrees in online journalism and political science.

While at OU, Weitzel was selected as Carnegie-Knight News21 Investigative Fellow among 30 top journalism students from around the country. She also was senior editor managing a 12-person newsroom in coordination with Oklahoma Watch, a non-profit news organization in eastern Oklahoma.

Wendy Weitzel The Star Digital Editor

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