I recently spent a week being a camp counselor for a group of 10- and 11-year-olds at Camp Okizu. The mission of Okizu is to provide peer support, respite, mentoring and recreational programs to meet the needs of all members of families affected by childhood cancer. Okizu offers week-long camps to children with cancer, as well as their siblings, in addition to weekend “family camps” that serve as occasions where parents can come together and share their experiences caring for a child with cancer.
I first heard about Okizu when I was working at Salesforce. Salesforce has a fantastic culture of volunteering. As part of its on-boarding process, new hires must do volunteer work. We were sent to repaint walls in a halfway house, but painting a dirty wall just wasn’t doing it for me. I wanted to get involved personally – offer more of myself than just my time. Over dinner, a coworker mentioned Camp Okizu’s mission. I was hooked. I loved camp, and now I get to spend a week in the Sierra Foothills helping kids, and sleeping under the stars? Sign me up.
A camp counselor’s job is all about being a supportive figure for the kids in your cabin. You’re responsible for them about 20 hours each day, making sure they brush their teeth, get to their activities on time and are safe and emotionally secure. The No. 1 rule for the counselors is “Put the kids first.” For campers it’s “Have Fun!”
Being a camp counselor appears radically different from my job as a product manager at Rackspace, but has a lot of similarities: you need to provide organization, stability and consistency. You need to get the product to market on time. Most of all, you need to be a calming figure that allows people to have fun, productive and feel safe. Volunteering helps me get outside of my own head, and see my work and environment from a different perspective.
Spending time volunteering gets you outside of the tech bubble. That time outside allows you to consider not just the utility behind your product, but how your work influences society as a whole. When I’m at Camp Okizu, in between helping kids get their shoes on, or teaching archery, I’m also doing my part to make sure that the youngsters are emotionally strong and have the social skills to collaborate in our increasingly competitive workplace.
Volunteering isn’t just giving to the community, it can be incredibly rewarding to you in your career, social life and emotional wellbeing. Knowing that I’ve spent one of the 52 weeks this year helping families suffering with cancer helps me connect with people and adds depth and meaning to my life.
I’m proud to be at a company that is committed to community. Rack Gives Back offers grants for arts and culture, especially as they relate to establishing a creative class of citizens. It also works within Rackspace to ensure that every employee has paid volunteering time for worthy causes. It’s part of what makes this a special place to work.
If you’re interested in volunteering at Camp Okizu, you can find an application on the organization’s website or email me for more information.