Okizu means “coming together” and there could not be a more appropriate name for this unique camp for kids with cancer and their families. Situated on 500 acres in Butte County just east of Oroville, Camp Okizu is a place where baldness is “in,” the challenges of having a brother or sister with cancer are understood and parents can freely share and find unconditional support. Cancer and everything that comes with it, is the norm, so kids can just go about being kids.
Every year or so, John Bell, the founder and owner of Camp Okizu, visits our office and re-acquaints us with the programs Camp Okizu offers our patients and their families. About half of the kids who attend camp each year have or had leukemia and many of our program Honored Heroes and Honored Teammates have experienced the magic that is Camp Okizu.
Whether you are hearing about Camp Okizu for the first time or the fifth time, it’s always powerful stuff.
What started 30 years ago as simply a camp for kids with cancer, has evolved into a camp for the whole family: kids, siblings and parents. In addition to week-long oncology camp, Camp Okizu has added family and sibling camp. These weekend-long programs have grown in popularity over the years and now extend beyond the summer months into late October, early November. Special family camp weekends include one for Spanish-speaking parents, teens who have lost a sibling, brain tumor patients and parents who have lost a child.
“The biggest benefit for campers of all ages is the peer support,” said John, whose camp name is “The Bass Master.” “When asked what his favorite thing about camp was, one camper replied, ‘meeting someone else whose brother died.’ It may sound like an unusual favorite thing, but that’s how important and impactful the support is.”
The camp experience is long-lasting. John shared with us that these days about half of the 670 volunteers who make it all happen are former campers. Two of the doctors and four of the nurses who give up a week’s worth of vacation to support oncology camp are also former campers. Talk about paying it forward.
What a truly magical place.
What a great reminder of why we do what we do. We fundraise to create more survivors.
To learn more about the programs offered by Camp Okizu or the process to become a Camp Okizu volunteer, visit http://www.okizu.org/.