This article originally appeared in the summer 2015 Harker Quarterly.
For the ninth year in a row, young cancer patients attending Camp Okizu will benefit from the annual Harker Cancer Walk.
On March 24, students, parents, family members, faculty and staff from Harker’s four campuses united at the middle school field for the walk, which has become a beloved annual tradition.
Cindy Ellis, middle school head, was thrilled to report that “between the baked goods, smoothies, shirts and donations, we raised over $10,000!”
Located in the Berry Creek area of the Sierra foothills and mirroring a residential camp experience, Camp Okizu provides a safe place for children with cancer to enjoy regular summer camp activities and social events.
The name Okizu (oak-eye-zoo) comes from the Sioux language and means “unity.” Camp Okizu is free of charge to all attendees, but it costs $700 to $1,000 to provide a weeklong camp experience for one child. Therefore, the camp relies on donations, making fundraising efforts such as the Harker Cancer Walk incredibly important.
“There’s always a moment at each Cancer Walk when I stop and look around at everything that’s going on. People are smiling, laughing and talking. There’s hustle and bustle in front of various tables. And even though the event can be a reminder of something sad, it also can be a reminder of those wonderful days gone by,” recalled Michael Schmidt, middle school computer science teacher and department chair, who had the idea for the fundraiser following the passing of his own mother due to cancer.
Today, he said, he no longer views the Cancer Walk as just a tribute to his mother “as much as I think of it as a tribute to the people and relationships I’ve experienced at Harker. Thank you all for sharing that with me.”
Prior to the walk, students engaged in activities to learn about different forms of cancer and cancer prevention strategies. In a further show of support for the fundraising effort, many teachers displayed door decorations with themes designed to promote cancer awareness.
For more information about Camp Okizu: http://www.okizu.org/about.