BELLEVUE, Wash. -- Some local kids impacted by cancer are returning to school this week knowing they are not alone in their fight.
That’s because they spent time this summer at a free camp – filled with laughter, friendship and fun.
During "circle time" at Camp Sparkle in Bellevue, 11-year-old Grayson Goodman feels safe talking about cancer.
“My name is Grayson," he said to the group of campers and counselors. "My dad died from cancer. Both of my grandpas died from cancer.”
In private, he shares more about how cancer has impacted his family.
“It makes me angry, sad and depressed sometimes,” Grayson said.
Grayson is an only child. For him, his dad really was everything.
Grayson Goodman and his father Hunter Goodman.
“We liked all the same sports teams," he said. "All the same ice cream. All the same candy. Everything. We like all the same subjects in school and I have the same smile as him. And it’s a good smile.”
Often, it's been hard to smile.
His father Hunter Goodman, the secretary of the Washington State Senate, was diagnosed with kidney cancer when Grayson was just 3-year-old. A battle Goodman lost last spring at the age of 49.
For a child, losing a parent to cancer can be so isolating.
Grayson Goodman and his father Hunter Goodman. The 49-year-old died from cancer April 16, 2019.
“You don’t have friends at school sometimes who are going through what you’re going through," Grayson said. “And so this camp helps with that.”
Camp Sparkle has been Grayson’s saving grace.
Camp director Maddie Ritter said, “Our mission is to make sure that no family has to face cancer alone.”
She gets what these kids are going through.
“I have a personal connection with cancer," Ritter said "My dad passed away when I was young.”
The key is creating a fun environment. The walls come down and the healing begins.
“They taught me to cry into a pillow," said 10-year-old Quentin Clark, who lost his father to cancer. "I did that a couple of times. It usually got my emotions out.”
The camp director said she sees a positive impact every day.
“A kid went home and told his mom, ‘Can I come back next year?'"Ritter said. "We hadn’t even finished the week yet and it was already, ‘Can I come back next year?' That to me tells me something about the good work we’re doing.”
Camp Sparkle is put on by a non-profit called Cancer Pathways.
It’s free for kids ages 6 to 12 years old who have cancer or have a loved one with cancer.
Kids at Camp Sparkle take part in Zumba in Bellevue.
Because the need is so great it’s grown to five sessions. All one-week long, held in Seattle, Everett, Tacoma and Bellevue.
Still, they can not accommodate all the families who would like to attend.
For Grayson, Camp Sparkle has brought back that smile he so proudly shared with his father.
For kids who have been through so much what could be better than that?
If you’d like to learn more or support the cause, go to: cancerpathways.org