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July 22, 2014

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Sun Summer Camp Fund returns a bit of childhood to those who need it

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Sam Morris

Cancer survivor Jasmine Chavez, 12, her mother Graziella Delatorre and school counselor Nancy Gentis are seen Thursday, June 5, 2014.

Jasmine Chavez was 8 years old when cancer struck.

She was in second grade, about to trudge home from Lynch Elementary School, when her legs gave out. She couldn’t walk. She couldn’t even get up.

Jasmine spent the next two weeks in a hospital intensive care unit. Doctors diagnosed her with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer that attacks the lymph nodes — a key part of the body’s immune system.

“It was a very bad situation,” her mother, Graziella Delatorre, said. “She was in bad shape. She was really sick.”

For the next year and a half, Jasmine was denied her childhood as radiation wracked her body and toxic chemicals coursed through her veins. Instead of going to school with her friends, she was in and out of hospitals. Most of the time, she was homebound.

Through all this, Jasmine never gave up on school. Nancy Gentis, a Clark County school guidance counselor, stopped by her bedside five days a week. Together they worked on her homework, and when she was too tired, they played cards and talked.

“She’s such a sweet little spirit, a very bright girl,” said Gentis, who is now retired. “I was just touched by her.”

Jasmine was one of the lucky girls. By the end of her third grade, she had beaten back cancer.

Although she was in remission, Jasmine still frequented the hospital — to visit her grandmother, who was stricken with liver disease. She would soon pass away.

“Her summer was looking very gloomy,” Delatorre said. “I wanted her to have some semblance of a childhood. I just wanted to cheer her up.”

Gentis recommended that Delatorre apply to the Las Vegas Sun Summer Camp Fund.

For more than 43 years, the fund has provided thousands of children from low-income families an opportunity to experience a classic childhood memory: summer camp. Last year, the Sun Summer Camp Fund provided $104,000 in “camperships” to more than 360 children in Las Vegas.

“It’s such a worthwhile cause,” Gentis said. “It gives a lot of needy kids out there a chance to have a worthwhile summer experience and experience nature.”

That summer, Jasmine traveled to Arizona for her camp experience at Ponderosa Pines. She was nervous at first because she didn't knowing anybody, but that changed as she made friends over the course of the weeklong camp.

During the daytime, Jasmine rode horses, shot arrows, hiked and rock-climbed. At night, she made s'mores over a glowing campfire and slept in a cabin. She made new friends and memories to last a lifetime. The camp counselor, she said, was great.

For the first time in a long time, Jasmine was able to be a kid again.

“It got my mind off all the shots and being in the hospital,” said Jasmine, now a 12-year-old sixth-grader at Cadwallader Middle School. “It was really fun. It was my first camping out.”

Jasmine came home all smiles. It was everything a mother and a teacher wanted for a child who had gone through so much so soon.

“She was so happy,” Delatorre said. “It was the first summer she was able to have fun as a child.”

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In the years since the Sun’s founding publisher, Hank Greenspun, founded the camp fund in 1970, it has helped send more than 40,000 children ages 8 to 14 to camps in Nevada, Arizona, Utah and California.

Every dollar donated to the fund by individuals, charities and corporate giving goes directly to camp scholarships for needy children; the administrative costs of running the program are absorbed entirely by the Sun.

Donations can be made online at suncampfund.com, by calling 702-259-4150, or by sending a check to: Las Vegas Sun Summer Camp Fund, 2360 Corporate Circle, Third Floor, Henderson, NV 89074.

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