CMC: Changing Lives, Saving Lives.

CMC:  Changing Lives, Saving Lives – Friday, May 9th, 2014

Each year, we put careful thought into the content of our Staff Orientation Week.  We spend a great deal of time plotting out, scheduling, organizing, and planning the different training sessions and learning opportunities for our staff throughout the week leading up to the kids’ arrival at camp.  We bring in outside professionals and special guests to teach and learn with our staff – after all, 9 straight days of hearing Steve and I could get boring. With that in mind, when I received a phone call in the early months of 2012 from Paige, a grad school friend and colleague, about visiting camp to do a presentation during Staff Orientation Week, I jumped at the chance.

GOL (2)

At the time, Paige was working for Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation, a Jewish non-profit organization who recruits bone marrow donors, facilitates matches and transplants, and saves lives.  As a part of a North American initiative, Gift of Life was launching its “Finding the HERO in you at camp” program, in which Jewish camps all over the continent held bone marrow drives for the staff, swabbing cheeks and placing names in the bone marrow registry.  Once in the registry, you remain on the list until you are 61 years old.

Without hesitation, we agreed that this would be an incredible opportunity for our staff – not only a unique learning opportunity during Staff Orientation Week, but also the chance to perform a mitzvah and be a part of something incredibly worthwhile.

During our 2012 drive, we happily swabbed 27 members of our staff.  We were visited by a past recipient who shared his story and inspired our staff.  Many members of our staff lamented about how they would have liked to be swabbed, but didn’t meet the eligibility requirements (must be a citizen of the USA and must be over 18).  They made me promise that we would do a drive in future summers so they, too, could be swabbed.  We were thrilled to have been a part of something so meaningful, and proud to have contributed to such a valuable cause.

This past March, Steve, Zim, Jeremy, and I had the privilege of attending the Foundation for Jewish Camp’s Leaders Assembly, a gathering of over 700 Jewish camp-lovers and supporters.  While there, I had the opportunity to meet with Ruth Miller from the Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation to uphold my promise to the staff, and discuss the opportunity of holding another drive at Camp Mountain Chai during Staff Orientation Week this coming summer.

Only weeks later, I received an e-mail from Gift of Life and assumed that Ruth was reaching out as promised.  I opened the e-mail to read:

On June 19, 2012 you helped facilitate a donor drive in Angelus Oaks at Camp Mountain Chai Staff Drive.  We are thrilled to inform you that a donor recruited at that drive has been transplanted for a 65 year old woman suffering from Acute Myelogenous Leukemia.

Oh.  My.  God.

Hands shaking, I read the e-mail four times over.  The words didn’t change, the message didn’t disappear, and I let go of the breath I didn’t even realize I had been holding.  Amazingly, a member of our staff community who swabbed at our drive not only matched as the best possible donor, but had gone through with the (painful) donation procedure, having his/her bone marrow transplanted for someone who needed it.  Unbelievable.

We are not the only camp community who has participated in the Gift of Life’s “Finding the HERO in you at camp” program.  In the past few years, 3822 camp staff members have been swabbed and entered into the registry.  Of that incredible number, only 37 matches have been made (0.009%).  Our drive produced the 7th transplant.  I am still in awe.

We are humbled by and proud of our staff donor.  Brittany, we thank you, from the bottom of our hearts; for your courage, your strength, and your willingness to go above and beyond.  We are honored to call you a member of our Camp Mountain Chai family, and know that others in our community are encouraged by your actions, and empowered by your mitzvah.  Kol HaKavod!

This is what camp is all about.  It is about instilling Jewish values into our campers and staff, and applying those values in the outside world;  enacting Jewish life in an everyday setting.  Camp is about providing growth opportunities, fostering development, creating transformative experiences, changing – and now saving – lives.  It is known that the highest Jewish value is saving a life, and being afforded the opportunity to do so is an indescribable feeling.  The Gift of Life’s camp drive program allows us to be true role models for our campers, our peers, and our colleagues.  We are inspired as a community, and excited to continue to participate in this amazing program.

~ Sas