Nonprofit Spotlight: A Day at Milton Marks Family Camp
By Ian Anstee
For every nonprofit with a household name, there are thousands doing the good work without recognition. I had the privilege of volunteering with one such organization earlier this month, Milton Marks Neuro-Oncology Family Camp.
Milton Marks Family Camp is a three-day, annual camp for families that have a parent with a brain tumor. Its mission is to provide families with the space to reconnect and to show them that they’re not alone. Abigail Marks Ph.D. founded the camp after her husband, Milton, passed of glioblastoma in 2012.
Milton Marks III lived generously. He worked as the executive director for several environmental nonprofits, served on the board of San Francisco Community College, and helped raise three, radiant children. His legacy of giving lives on through the camp built in his honor.
I’ve documented below what a day looks like as a teen counselor at Milton Mark’s camp. Your day will be better for knowing how this small oasis illuminates the dark:
7:00 AM – Morning Yoga, Life Lab
The Life Lab is—quite ironically—a room full of taxidermied animals.
This puts a whole new meaning into the position “downward dog.”
8:00 AM – Breakfast, Cafeteria
It is way too early in the morning for camp songs.
It’s never too early for camp songs.
9:00 AM – Art, Art Room
The girl sitting next to me is the Michelangelo of friendship bracelets.
10:00 AM – Animal Tracking, Trail
What’s the difference between a gopher, a prairie dog, and a vole?
11:00 AM – Patient-Child Scavenger Hunt, Everywhere
Patients and their children laugh together, and it makes me smile.
It’s clear that some families don’t get this chance very often.
12:00 PM – Lunch, Cafeteria
I was initially skeptical that “Take on Me” could be adapted into a camp song.
1:00 PM – Teen Support Group, Maple Lodge
This is the hardest part of the camp, and it’s also the most important. Every day, these kids bear witness to an immense amount of pain. They somehow find the energy to cry at one another’s stories.
The human heart is powerful.
3:00 PM – Acid River, Ropes Course
Ben—a ginger-bearded man in a cowboy hat—challenges our group to cross an invisible pit of acid using three boards and the power of teamwork. Upon completing the task, we’re asked to think about which rivers we crossed this past year and who helped us cross them.
You can tell that these kids are used to crossing treacherous expanses by themselves. They don’t have to today.
5:00 PM – Free Time, Pond
Some jump into the freezing water. I read a book on being an effective board member.
6:00 PM – Dinner, Cafeteria
7:00 PM – Campfire Preparation, Campfire
The teenagers are responsible for preparing the campfire tonight, which means lighting the fire and decorating the pit around it
They are better at decorating.
7:30 PM – S’mores, Campfire
The best—and only—camp dessert
8:00 PM – Campfire songs, Campfire
There’s a couple sitting to the side of everyone else; they have their arms around each other’s waists and are giggling.
Brain tumors can affect one’s personality, which leaves family members of patients feeling sometimes like they’re living with a stranger. Many of the couples here have found a way to continue loving one another (some even more than before) despite these changes.
One couple leaves early to watch the stars.
The human heart is powerful.
10:00 PM – Bedtime
The families depart and return to their campers, leaving the fading embers behind. Our high-schoolers, though, want to stay up and chat. In darkness, we exchange scary stories that aren’t all that scary. I tell them a story about a failed high-school relationship that ends up being far scarier. The campers exchange numbers with one another.
This doesn’t end here.
Upon returning home from camp, I took the longest shower of my life and reflected on how few people know about this incredible organization (its page currently has zero reviews on our site). Then I thought about the thousands of charitable organizations who live on our website but aren’t seen. It’s not that their work isn’t meaningful or impactful; those pages are waiting for people like myself to fill them with stories that already exist.
Imagine if every page on GreatNonprofits was automatically updated whenever a nonprofit changed a life—Maybe then we’d have a sense of how much good truly is out there.
Support Milton Marks Neuro-Oncology Camp in its mission to show struggling families that they’re not alone.
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Ian Anstee is a Stanford Public Interest Fellow with GreatNonprofits. He serves as the Steering Committee chair for Camp Kesem at Stanford and cares deeply about economic equity.