Today is Amanda the Panda’s birthday!
Amanda the Panda was born in the heart of JoAnn Zimmerman in 1979. With no financial resources, the organization was supported by a dream – to be a caring presence in the community and to serve children. JoAnn formed Amanda Cares, Inc. and created Amanda the Panda in 1980.
The primary focus for Amanda the Panda during the first seven years was to be a special friend to children living with cancer. She made frequent and repeated visits to children in their homes, hospitals and schools, locally and statewide, bringing a huge heart, a listening ear and lots of warm and wonderful bear hugs!
Almost immediately, JoAnn realized that children with cancer are children first, and cancer patients second. And another dream surfaced…a week-long, residential summer camp in Iowa, exclusively for children living with cancer. The focus of the camp would be on childhood, not cancer, and the children would experience the week of a lifetime. It took JoAnn three years to raise the money to create the first camp in June; Camp-A-Panda. It was extremely successful and surpassed all expectations! Four years of continued growth and excellence later, in 1988, The Heart Connection took over Camp-A-Panda which continues serving children today.
Amanda the Panda’s work with grieving children evolved naturally from this work with children living with cancer. In the fall of 1982, JoAnn created Camp Amanda®, a weekend camp exclusively for children who have experienced a death through accident, illness, suicide or homicide. Camp Amanda® is the first and longest running camp in the United States for grieving children and teens.
That first camp has now grown into two weekend camps and one day camp each year for children and teens ages 6–17 as well as adults. The adult camp was first held in 1989. To date, about 35,000 children, teens and adults from across the state have participated in Amanda the Panda’s programs on page. Amanda the Panda has achieved phenomenal success since its humble beginnings in 1980.
Based on one woman’s dream of bringing hope and healing to children whose lives have been profoundly altered by the death of someone they love, over 600 volunteers now share and participate in our caring work.
The Amanda story is one of good news for all of us. It’s a story in which new chapters are waiting to be written. Those future chapters are open pages dependent upon the financial support of others.
With vision and dedication, Amanda the Panda will continue to bring compassion, healing and joy to children. We invite you to share in the help our organization brings. Your contribution will ALWAYS be put to good use. Amanda the Panda is a 501 (c) (3) not-for-profit organization.