Camp Jinka -
a safe haven and magical place for children and teenagers on the brain tumor journey How her own tragedy inspired Judy Zocchi, founder of Camp Jinka, to establish the unique, award-winning summer experience in the United States CAMP Jinka (located in New Jersey) is a free, summer day program for children and teenagers whose lives have been impacted by the diagnosis of a brain tumor. This unique, award-winning camp offers creative indoor and outdoor activities while encouraging expression and connection with other kids having a similar life experience. It is a place where campers are no longer the kid who has a parent with cancer, or the child who is a brain tumor patient. They are just young people who understand each other without having to explain. For children who are dealing with fear and stress on a daily basis, Camp Jinka is a beacon of light. This will be the fifth year for Camp Jinka. Judy Zocchi, the camp's founder, lost her husband David to brain cancer in 2005. She said: “It was hard for me as an adult to watch my husband deteriorate and slip away. I could not imagine how scary it would be for a child to watch their parent going through the same thing. That’s when Camp Jinka was born.” Zocchi adds: “These kids are so resilient and such an inspiration. It is a blessing to spend time with them.” Not only is the camp a safe haven for the children, but it provides a respite for the family. Often, the caregiver is stressed, or the patient is in treatment, and parents are trying to juggle everything, including their children. Fran Bogdon recalls the first summer her children came to camp when she was diagnosed with a primary brain tumor followed shortly by her mom’s diagnosis of a metastatic brain tumor. 18
Above: Camp Jinka Founder Judy Zocchi
"Camp Jinka has blessed my family with the miracle of hope, happiness, and healing," Bogdon said. "My two children were devastated watching me recover from surgery as they sat stuck helplessly in the house wondering if I would ever be the same again. Then Camp Jinka offered my children happiness and healing as they expressed their emotions with other children affected by brain tumors and as they created art together." Camp Jinka does not have a formal therapy program. It operates on the “untherapy” philosophy. The camp creates situations where kids can connect. While they are engaged in an activity with another person, when the time is right, many of them talk about what is going on at home. Conversations happen in all types of situations such as in the car ride back and forth to camp or while collaborating on a project. A social worker is available on request should the family need support.
"It was wonderful to see my children come home from camp laughing and smiling as they excitedly told me about their daily adventures,” Fran Bogdon said. “Camp Jinka allowed them to be children again and offered me precious quality time to spend with my mom as she recovered from her surgery." The art that is created over the threeweek camp period culminates in a large exhibition and community celebration. Other activities include fossil hunting, photography, dance, karate, field trips and more. Special guests visit Camp Jinka frequently to share their talents for a day, leading special projects like silk screening, bridge building, cupcake decorating, gardening and video game production. Judy Zocchi said: “The camp fosters such a feeling of community and acceptance that campers return to Jinka year after year. Camp Jinka is magic! I have watched children over the last five years start as a camper and grow into a peer counselor. They just love coming back. We have created a teen retreat to accommodate them as they get older. As one teen put it: "It was such a good summer spending time with people who understood what I was going through. I felt better being at camp. I'm looking forward to Camp Jinka again next summer." Zocchi is in constant fundraising mode since Camp Jinka is offered to children free of charge. "We just keep growing and growing,” she said. “New kids coming in and the older kids not wanting to leave. It’s a beautiful thing. My dream is to one day expand Camp Jinka nationally or even better - internationally!” n