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Fundraiser to help Bay Area's Camp Okizu

A fundraiser is being held to help Camp Okizu, a program in the Bay Area that offers help and hope for kids and families with cancer.
November 28, 2013 7:20:44 PM PST
A lot of families are giving thanks today. Some are grateful for a program called Camp Okizu that helps children and families living with cancer.

"I remember distinctly at a very young age, that I thought everybody did what I did, that everybody was in the hospital and everybody couldn't play certain sports," former Okizu camper Danny Thompson said.

Danny survived two bouts with cancer when he was little, and is feeling great. He's volunteering to help his dad with a fundraiser to make sure other kids can attend this summer camp in the Sierra Foothills because it meant so much to him as a child.

He spent a lot of summers here at Camp Okizu. It offers free camp to children and families living with cancer.

The first time Danny was diagnosed, he was just 3-years-old, about the time his baby sister Megan was born.

We met Danny when he was six, going through treatment to fight a second round of cancer. We learned how courageous he was at such a young age, in talking to other cancer patients.

Danny hasn't been back to camp in six years because he went to college and got a good job.

But he's back at camp this time to help his dad with art projects for a Camp Okizu fundraiser called "Art Inspiring Hope." It's the 20th anniversary.

"This one is my favorite because it was the old logo that I remember when I was first coming to camp," Danny said. "They have the bald, then they have one with hair, and there's a girl in there, everybody's smiling.

Danny and his dad Mike Thompson brought a number of artists to camp to work with the kids. He owns the Michael Thompson framing business in San Francisco.

"While we were at camp one year, I offered to help with fundraising and Art Inspiring Hope," Michael said. "It was a natural fit for my company because we were at a gallery and we were doing picture framing so we were able to connect with the artists and it was a good source, a place to raise money for the camp."

"I've always donated artwork to the Okizu event," San Francisco artist Lewis Perri said. "And I was very fortunate to have the work sell. So I feel happy to be able to contribute to it."

This interactive art experience is a new addition at camp. The Okizu co-founders are always adding something different.

John Bell and Dr. Mike Amylon started Camp Okizu more than 30 years ago. And the need is greater than ever.

"Part of that is a reflection of the fact that there are more kids being diagnosed," Dr. Mike said. "Part of that is that more of them are doing well, so they keep coming to camp longer. We like that."

Bell adds, "The family camps are so in demand that a number can't get into fall camps at this time. We're making room, adding space, have to have a city of tents on the field here to have accommodations for everybody. We don't want to turn anyone away."

Their $5 million loan is now down to $2 million. But, they need money to build more cabins and to replace the decks holding the cabins that are there right now.

One of Camp Okizu's donors came to visit -- Annette Robison with the Lowell Berry Foundation in Lafayette. She brought her children to meet the campers.

And I caught up with a teenager I met last year, Annina Hanlon, who is walking a lot better now.

"I had osteosarcoma bone cancer," Hanlon said. "So I had some of the bone and joint replaced with a titanium rod."

"If you are missing a limb or have a big surgical scar, that just adds to that sense that all of a sudden, I'm different than all the rest of those kids that I used to be the same as, it makes them feel very much alone," Dr. Mike said.

"People do stare," Hanlon said. "And then when I explain I had cancer, I usually get a lot of blank looks. People don't know how to respond or what to say. And I think you don't find that here."

Kate and Kyle Baca are sister and brother. They each had a different cancer, one right after the other. Kyle had leukemia.

"I was diagnosed in Dec. 2007 with a brain tumor," Kate said.

"You don't feel alone here," Kyle said. "You always feel like there's someone who completely understands what you're going through."

And Danny Thompson is right. Kids here at Camp Okizu learn that it is going to be ok.

"Everyone here at camp is all in the same boat," he said. "It's a nice feeling to know it's a community."

Camp Okizu needs a lot of renovations. They need contractors to donate time and lumber to replace the decks holding up the cabins. They also need clothes that kids might forget to bring, like swimsuits, sweatshirts, and other camp clothing.


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