Eric Cavett, Oklahoma City
Every summer, children in communities across Oklahoma gear up for the playful days of fishing, swimming, sleepovers, playing baseball, campfire stories and summer camp. In those same communities live hundreds of ordinary children living through extraordinary medical challenges. These children too often watch from afar through the windows of nondescript buildings as other children play, ride bicycles and run, hoping for a time when illness no longer limits them. One young Oklahoma lawyer, Eric Cavett, is doing his part to carry on a family tradition of bringing the joys of barefoot summer fun to children with serious — oftentimes terminal — illnesses.
The Cavett Kids Foundation (www.cavett kids.org) was founded in 1997 by Eric’s uncle and Children’s Hospital chaplain, Danny Cavett, with a vision of providing Oklahoma’s chronically and seriously ill children the same access to outdoor fun as healthy kids. The foundation’s purpose was to provide a summer camp experience for children with all types of serious and terminal diseases, so that these children could learn how to cope with their disease, build character and help connect with others in a similar situation. Fifteen years later, Cavett Kids Foundation has six such camps across the region, dozens of events throughout the year and the Diversionary Play program at Children’s Hospital in Oklahoma City.
Eric, a young trial lawyer with Foshee & Yaffee in Oklahoma City, serves on the foundation’s board of directors and is actively involved in the camps and in growing the foundation. His passion is seeing children with life-threatening illnesses overcome their diseases and, for at least one week, spend their days out of the hospital, on a life-memorable adventure at summer camp.
“It’s truly one of the most rewarding experiences that you can ask for,” Eric said. “Your life and your problems pale in comparison to this child’s daily fight for his/her life. At camp, that child forgets she has cancer, kidney failure, etc. and gets to enjoy being a kid for once in her life. It’s truly incredible.”
The selflessness of his service comes naturally for the Mustang native, whose family foundation has helped tens of thousands of children and their families from across Oklahoma as they battle life-threatening illnesses. The foundation is in-spiring, but Eric says, “more importantly, the inspiration comes after you see a child in a wheelchair, bald and sick as she smiles for the first time in many months after she reels in a five-pound fish on a boat at Lake Texoma” where one summer camp is held.
Many children in treatment not only miss out on traditional summer fun, but also typical character-building opportunities — like Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, team sports, even after-school activities — due to their illnesses. Cavett Kids Foundation gives these kids a childhood the way we all remember it to be, “with hands in the dirt and a worm on the hook,” as Eric says. “Camp allows these kids to establish an identity away from the treatment room, to instill confidence while creating connections. This is the Cavett Kids experience — reminding campers their illness does not have to limit their ability to have a full life.”
“It’s hard to find the time, but you do it,” Eric said. “You do it because you believe in the cause and you believe that every child, regardless of their illness, should have at least one chance in their life to leave all the medications, doctor’s visits, tests and needles behind to have fun during summer camp. And when it’s over, you can’t wait for the next camp, when you get to meet the most amazing children.”
Eric believes it is incumbent on lawyers to give back “because we possess an incredible talent not many people have to offer — leadership. Whether it’s being a deacon at church or coaching a little league team, lawyers lead the community.”
Cavett Kids is successful because of the hard work of dedicated staff and volunteers — from dialysis nurses who keep bedside vigil each night to the local fishermen who return every year to take the children fishing. Knowing that their children are safe and happy also gives parents the rare opportunity to relax and enjoy their temporary respite from daily caretaking duties.
“Helping others solve problems is what we do daily, but some of these kids’ problems can’t be solved.” Eric said. “The least we can do is give of ourselves to provide these kids a summer camp.”
LESSONS FOR CAMPERS
Cavett Kids strives to instill in its campers three important lessons known as “The Three Cs:”
• Teach coping skills in a nurturing, fun environment
• Build character by reinforcing positive expectations and encouraging personal growth
• Establish meaningful connections be-tween children who often feel isolated from their peers.
The Three Cs are the cornerstone of each camp and the main reason that Cavett Kids activites so often becomes a transformative experience for both campers and volunteers. Volunteers speak of the amazing opportunity the camp presents to give back and have fun while helping Oklahoma children enjoy summer.
What started as one camp and a dream has now blossomed into six camps serving about 360 children with various life-threatening and chronic illnesses each year. The diagnoses may differ — leukemia, heart disease, cystic fibrosis and Crohn’s disease to name just a few — and the treatments and outcomes may vary, but a common experience links all campers together, creating a unique environment where children hear stories that sound remarkably like their own. For many, camp is the only place where these children feel truly understood, where they never feel left out.
“We live such different lives from the rest of the world,” said Paige, a camper diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. When we come to camp, for once, we’re normal.”
Each camp fosters independence and self-sufficiency; it creates a sense of being able to do normal things while dealing with extraordinary challenges. In the process, support systems are formed, friendships that campers can rely on long after camp is over and the hardships of normal life have resumed.
“Children feel it and parents see it,” Eric said. “Children come home tired but happy, fortified by fun and sunshine, excited about the challenges they faced and the friendships they made, instilled with newfound feelings of independence and — most important of all — proud of themselves and all that they accomplished.”
Thanks to this young lawyer, his family and the host of caring Oklahomans, including the legal community, who volunteer at the camps and activities! When summer ends and Cavett Kids go back to school in the fall, these kids will have their own camp stories to tell. Isn’t that extraordinary?
Originally published in the Oklahoma Bar Journal -- Nov. 2, 2013 -- Vol. 84, No. 28