By Jordan Smith
Imagine that you are 6 or 10 years old and you just learned your mom or dad has cancer. Imagine how scary that would be. Two NC State University alums don’t have to imagine what that would be like, they lived it, and now they are making a difference for kids facing that reality.
Torry and Terrence Holt, former NC State football stars, created the Raleigh-based Holt Brothers Foundation in memory of their late mother Ojetta Holt-Shoffner who courageously battled cancer for ten years. The Foundation works to mentor kids who have a parent with cancer and provides them with the tools needed to understand and cope with such a life-threatening disease. The Foundation’s program, KidsCan!, as well as an affiliate program, Camp Kesem, work with children ages 6-16 and give them the support they need to learn about what their parents are going through, to express what they’re going through, and to find a way to cope and push forward. The Holt brothers emphasize these kids can do tremendous things, whether that’s becoming the next valedictorian or football star or interning with Dr. Cavanaugh at NC State to find the cure for cancer.
“These kids can have that opportunity to find the cure for the next mom or dad. This kid asked himself how he can be more involved, how to get more involved, and have an impact.” Torry believes, “KidsCan! and Camp Kesem provide opportunities for kids to find their outlet.”
KidsCan! empowers kids whose parents are battling cancer with the educational and emotional support they need as well as providing them with opportunities for fun. At some monthly group meetings, kids meet with oncology staff at local hospitals to learn about the disease and its treatments; at other meetings, the focus is placed on providing emotional support through group discussions, arts and crafts, and fun outings.
The Holt Brothers Foundation supports an already existing nonprofit that shares its mission, Camp Kesem North Carolina. Camp Kesem is a sleep away camp for children whose parents are facing cancer run entirely by college students. Camp provides kids a fun getaway, a rare opportunity for kids of cancer patients. The North Carolina chapter of Camp Kesem is currently run by Duke and UNC students but the Foundation is thrilled to expand Camp Kesem North Carolina’s reach by instituting a chapter at their alma-mater, NC State. The Holt Brothers Foundation has underwritten this new chapter for the next two years and is working to expand one week of summer camp to two weeks to meet demand.
Torry is thrilled about the new NC State chapter: “It was only right to do that. Not to knock on Duke or UNC because we’re all making an impact to help these kids, but it was driving us crazy that where we come from doesn’t have their own chapter. We have the most intelligent students there.”
The impact of programs like KidsCan! and Camp Kesem is not insignificant. Torry shares that kids emerge stronger from these programs: “We have kids who come in that are totally isolated prior to coming to KidsCan! or Camp Kesem. They come away from there and they’re valedictorians, they’re on the football team or the cheerleading squad. Their relationship with their brother and sister is better, their relationship with their mom and dad is better. A lot of times they feel like it’s their fault and that’s one of the toughest ones, getting over the fact that it’s not their fault. It’s what happens. Here’s how you can deal with it, here’s how you can make things better, here’s how you can make your life better. So we see kids that come in that are totally isolated and become the talk of the town or the school. And it’s because our programs are giving them the chance to express themselves and more importantly to learn what their parent or guardian is actually going through. It helps them cope with everyday life.”
Torry and Terrence’s active involvement with these programs, taking the time to speak with and engage with kids, provides a model of what these kids can be. Through hard work and determination, Torry and Terrence have led successful careers and have returned to North Carolina doing their work to support the future of North Carolina. Torry emphasizes, “You don’t need to leave home to do good.”
The Holt Brothers Foundation focuses on mentoring kids whose parents battle cancer, and supports other programs that share their mission.
Jordan Smith is a recent graduate of NC State, holding her Master’s degree in English with a concentration in Rhetoric and Composition.