Planet Lori gives kids touched by cancer chance to be young again

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published May 20, 2015

BIRMINGHAM — In the summer, there’s usually a day camp to be found to suit any youngster’s tastes and interests.

There’s one camp, though, that’s even more special, since it welcomes kids 5 to 15 years old who’ve experienced the pain and stress that come when a loved one is diagnosed with cancer.

This will be the second year that the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center will host Planet Lori Art Camp. The one-week camp is part of the Lori Haber Buckfire Foundation, which was founded in honor of the Bloomfield Hills native who lost her battle with ovarian cancer in the summer of 2010.

According to Lisa Elconin, the camp’s director, the foundation benefits the cancer community in a number of ways, including by fundraising for ovarian cancer research and BRCA gene mutation studies, since Haber Buckfire carried the gene that has been shown to increase the risk of developing breast, ovarian and other types of cancer.

But the Planet Lori camp is the foundation’s way of shining a light on those who aren’t directly impacted by cancer, but still feel the effects of the disease that their loved ones battle.

“She was an artist and loved doing art projects with her son,” said Elconin, who was Haber Buckfire’s sister-in-law. “We did it in memory of Lori and her vision of art to help communicate and help with stress.”

Elconin explained that her sister-in-law was diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer in May 2005, just eight weeks after giving birth to her son, Hayden. The new mom had studied art in college and spent many an afternoon doing art projects with Hayden while she fought for her life.

BBAC Executive Director Annie VanGelderen said she’s seen more than once how art can help children to better communicate their feelings during tough situations, and the camp provides that very opportunity, despite the fact that cancer is rarely ever mentioned.

“The camp is designed for children who have had a parent or sibling or close relative with cancer. Oftentimes, we neglect the ones who aren’t sick, and this is a way to make them feel special and get them away for a bit from what might be a difficult situation at home,” she said. “Nothing will be said about health or emotions. It’s just about having a fun experience with art and getting the chance to feel special.”

Campers are grouped with others their same age and spend the week trying out art of all different mediums, from painting and sculpting to even metalwork and jewelry making for teen campers. Participants are signed up on a first-come, first-served basis since tuition is entirely paid by the foundation.

“Last year was phenomenal. We had an art show where all the parents came, and it was so great because there are (campers) of all ages, so there’s a whole different array of talents,” said Elconin, who said 20 campers from last year have already signed up to participate again this summer. “The stories you hear are heartwarming from the kids about parents or siblings they’ve lost and how this week was just for them to put themselves into art.”

This year’s camp will take place Aug. 24-28 at the BBAC in Birmingham. For information on how to sign up, visit www.planet lori.com and look for the art camp application.

The foundation is expected to send about 50 students to camp this year through donations from the community.

It also fundraises throughout the year with special events like the Planet Lori ROCKS event that will take place Sept. 18 at Sanita Hall in Keego Harbor.

Donors can also make contributions or purchase samples of Haber Buckfire’s artwork, with 100 percent of the proceeds going toward the foundation.

The Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center is located at 1516 S. Cranbrook Road in Birmingham.