Located in beautiful Novato, California, Okizu has been helping kids with cancer and their families find comfort and hope through specialized summer camps and other programs for over 30 years.
At Okizu, 670 individual volunteer each year, over half of whom were once campers when they were children. This includes some of the medical staff who, now as adults, come back to help other kids battling the disease.
More than 3000 campers participate in Okizu camps annually, including patients, their siblings, and family members. Bereavement camps are also an important component of the services offered, all of which are at no cost to cancer patients or their families.
The following letter was written by the parent of a child diagnosed with leukemia, and details their experience at Oziku and what it meant to their family:
“After two years of intensive chemotherapy, multiple relapses, and long hospitalizations, we were told that our young son Ulysses’ bone marrow transplant had failed. The leukemia was in remission but we had exhausted our medical options, and were now faced with the real prospect of losing him. Our ten-year-old daughter Aspen had been his bone marrow donor and we were very concerned for her wellbeing and how she may feel.
“The following month we had an opportunity to send her to Okizu’s SIBS camp. Ulysses cried as the bus pulled away from the platform. ‘I want to go to camp’ he got out between sobs, and he spoke of this EVERY DAY during her absence.
“When Aspen returned it was clear that the message she received at camp was in concert with our own. None of this was her fault, and we were proud of her for selflessly doing what only she could do. The camp just reinforced how special these kids are while giving them the space and a healthy environment in which to express themselves. We were very thankful for that, and I signed us up for a fall family camp.
“During the following weeks, the stress we faced was tremendous. Individually and as a family we had to come to terms with what the future held for us. As Ulysses’ condition began to deteriorate we called Okizu and requested an earlier date for us to come to family camp. It did not appear we had much time to work with and only a short window before the cancer came back for good.
“Numerous calls were made and special arrangements planned by everyone involved. This allowed us our ONE AND ONLY opportunity for the entire family to attend. Three-year-old Ulysses got his dream to go to camp, which would not have been possible in any other environment. He thrived there and wanted to be a part of everything, made friends with everyone he met, and was able to explore a new world away from IV poles and a hospital room. For us, it was all about quality time.
“When I think back on those days and the memories they stir up, I recall how sad I felt upon my arrival and the heavy burden we carried. And as I sat in the dining hall that first evening, I saw John Bell (Okizu Chairman and co-founder) for the first time. He was holding a broom and sweeping, and I thought ‘this must be the janitor . . . and he gets on with everyone.’ A little while later I spotted him in the serving line putting pizza on plates, and I thought ‘wow . . . this guy is really good . . . he’s like a multi-purpose janitor . . . and look what time it is . . . and he is still going strong.’ Of course it did not take me long to figure out who was who and I had to laugh at myself.
“What I liked about this camp from the very beginning is that it was wholly a team effort and there were no apparent big shots or egos. I was amazed at the tenacity of vision that John and Dr. Mike ‘s dream invoked. It has become something grander than either of them, and it serves our community in a very unique way.
“Another thing I found equally amazing was just how much has been accomplished since the camp’s inception…all based on what appears to be a shoestring budget, personal risk, and creative ingenuity. How they manage to make each dollar stretch like they do is mind boggling. It comes down to regular people like you and I, who put what we can on the table, be it personal funds, or our time and attention.
“For these reasons, when we held Ulysses’ memorial service in November 2008, we asked that gifts be given to Camp Okizu. For our family it was a fitting tribute for what we had already received, and it helped relieve some of the sadness we felt, knowing that other children would benefit.
“In the future, like this letter, we will try to find other ways to participate, if only to sweep a floor or place pizza on someone’s plate. Even the janitor needs a break once in a while.
“Thank you Camp Okizu!”
KOA Care Camps is proud to help support Okizu’s ongoing efforts to help children with cancer and the families who are also living with the effects of the disease. Click here to learn more about Okizu, or follow them on Facebook.