Representatives from the Clark County Sheriff’s Office, the Camas Police Department, the Vancouver Flames youth basketball team, Big Al’s Family Entertainment Center and the Portland Timbers made a surprise appearance Saturday at a “kindness sting” held at Skyview High School during a Flames basketball tournament.
The event was held in support of Camden Linton, a 4-year-old Camas resident who was diagnosed in June with diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, an inoperable and aggressive form of cancer in the lower brainstem. The disease typically affects children between the ages of 5 and 7 and is rare, with about 200 new diagnoses per year in the United States. The average prognosis is about nine months.
The Linton family is well known in Camas – Camden’s mother Erin is an elementary school librarian and his father Jeff works at the paper mill – and the news of Camden’s diagnosis quickly led to an outpouring of support from the Camas community and the Lintons’ church community.
Friends of the family created an online fundraising campaign in mid-June, and later in the month the Downtown Camas Association hosted a “Carnival for Camden” event at Natalia’s Cafe, inviting the community to participate and show its support for the family.
“He’s really brought the community of Camas together – and beyond,” said Jason Hattrick, who organized Saturday’s event.
Hattrick is the founder of a local nonprofit called Kindness 911 that works with police departments to organize events where community members receive “kindness citations” to recognize their work and importance to the community.
Hattrick, who works as a middle school teacher, said he created the organization with the goal of supporting law enforcement agencies and providing memorable experiences and recognition for community members. One of the organization’s first events in October honored Wyatt Draper, a 6-year-old Clark County resident who was also diagnosed with diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma.
Hattrick said he learned about Camden’s story through social media and met the Linton family at the June carnival. He quickly realized that Camden was a perfect candidate for a kindness citation. He spent several weeks planning the event, building it around two of Camden’s favorite things: stuffed animals and soccer.
“It’s just providing a positive experience for a (soccer) fan who’s facing a pretty tough next year,” Hattrick said.
The initial plan was for the Clark County Sheriff’s Office and Camas Police Department to present the kindness citation and for Timbers mascot Timber Joey to make an appearance, but Hattrick said the presentation schedule kept growing as additional organizations like Big Al’s decided to join in.
The Flames were also eager to get involved, Hattrick said, and the tournament made an ideal venue – the parking lot of Skyview High School was cordoned off and converted into five half-size basketball courts for the two-day event, and the lot was packed with families and kids.
The lineup came as a complete surprise, Jeff Linton told The Columbian afterwards – he’d been invited to the Flames tournament and told that his whole family should attend, but none of them were expecting to see the pair of police cars that pulled into the Skyview parking lot just after 1 p.m., with lights and sirens turned on to draw the crowd’s attention.
Hattrick began the ceremony by explaining the concept of the kindness sting and introducing Deputy Darrell Benton from the sheriff’s office and Sgt. Brett Robison from the Camas Police Department, then inviting the Linton family up to the center of the main basketball court.
Benton and Robison kicked things off by presenting Camden with a framed “kindness citation” and a stuffed animal version of the sheriff’s office K-9 Ringo, and naming Camden as an honorary Clark County sheriff’s deputy.
Next up, Flames director Brandon Richardson and assistant director Dorral Lukas outfitted Camden with a basketball from the junior NBA and a Flames jersey, which Camden excitedly waved around, drawing cheers from the crowd.
Then there was a goody bag from Big Al’s, presented by event manager Lauren Reagan and other staff from Big Al’s. Regan also gave Camden a stuffed dinosaur from the Declan the Dinosaur foundation, a support nonprofit named in honor of Regan’s son, a dinosaur enthusiast who passed away from leukemia last year.
Finally, Timber Joey himself stepped out of the back of one of the police cars and came over to greet Camden and give him another dog stuffed animal – to make sure Ringo has a friend, he said – along with a Timbers cape, scarf, stickers and soccer balls, and an invitation to come help Joey rally the crowd at an upcoming Timbers game.
“This is a huge surprise,” Jeff Linton said. “The whole community has been stellar.”
Camden is wrapping up his radiation treatment this week, Jeff Linton said, and then the family wo;; get ready for a Make-A-Wish Foundation trip to Disney World. That’s another example of community support, he said – by the time a member of the Linton family called Make-A-Wish to tell them about Camden, the organization had already been contacted by Camas community members.
After the trip, the family is looking forward to celebrating Camden’s fifth birthday in November, Jeff Linton said – but before that, Camden will step into the role of a “Junior Joey” at the Timbers game in September – and judging by his enthusiastic high-five with Timber Joey, Camden is looking forward to it.
“He’s pretty stoked,” Jeff Linton said.