"Then and Now" encourages former Chai Lifeline clients and Camp Simcha campers to share their stories.

“Then and Now” encourages former Chai Lifeline clients and Camp Simcha campers to share their stories.

Does Chai Lifeline bring out the natural empathy in people, or are people who are touched by the organization more likely to nurture their empathetic abilities when choosing careers?

It’s a “chicken or egg” question worthy of a doctoral dissertation, but the reality is that many of the people who have been clients, counselors, and volunteers choose professions where their focus is on helping others. Aided by Chai Lifeline’s social media channels, we are now telling the stories of our former clients and campers who have chosen helping careers.

We were spurred on by a Facebook post by Daniel Bral, a former camper and staff member who posted on our Camp Simcha Alumni Facebook page.

“I wanted to just emphasize something that many of you may already know but possibly not to the full extent. You have no idea the impact and influence that you have on the campers. Ten years later I still remember specific memories and people from camp. I still remember my counselors and the normalcy and haven from cancer that they created for me,” he wrote. “Thank you for giving us, in 2 weeks, the vitality and will to live for the following 50 weeks. Thank you for showing us that we are fighters and champions! Thank you for showing us we are beautiful and handsome despite the chemo, radiation and surgical side effects. Thank you for allowing us to be ourselves…for helping piece together a life that cancer shattered.”

Daniel is an active Camp Simcha alumnus when he’s not busy on rounds and research. He is finishing his studies at Nova Southeast University College of Osteopathic Medicine in Florida, and also serves as the chair of the Young People’s Advisory Board of Teen Cancer America. His eventual goal is pediatric oncology.

Daniel’s spontaneous act encouraged us to ask others to tell their story. In less than a week, we heard from several former campers. Madeline Benoff said that Chai Lifeline, which came into her family’s life when she was diagnosed with cancer at age 2, “was always there for me when I needed someone.

“Camp Simcha changed my life. I made so many friends there. I still speak to them! When I grow up, I want to be an American Sign Language teacher to help kids who are deaf. Thank you Chai Lifeline!”

Former camper Chaya Mushka asserted that her experiences at Chai Lifeline and her friendships with Chai Lifeline were the impetus for her decision to become a nurse. She told us, “Nine years ago today I was discharged from the hospital in remission from cancer. Chai Lifeline was there for me and my family the entire time, and Camp Simcha gave me the fun I had missed out on and helped me get back to myself. Since then, I have donated my hair twice and ran the Miami Marathon with Team Lifeline. This Fall I am beginning nursing school and I plan to be a pediatric oncology nurse.”

Executive vice president Rabbi Simcha Scholar, who has been part of Chai Lifeline since its first days, has lost count of how many volunteers and counselors have become doctors, nurses, social workers, child life specialists, and psychologists. “Clearly, we influenced them during a formative time in their lives, just as they impacted others and the organization.”

On the refrigerator in Chai Lifeline’s New York office is a magnet that says, “Go into the world and do well. But more important, go into the world and do good.” So many of our graduates have taken that advice, and we’re proud to have played a part in their decision.

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