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Jennifer Mercer: “Not everyone in life has to love you (or even like you)”

To me, leadership is about helping others see their greatest strengths and the opportunities they have to contribute to the greater goal, and then unleashing them to use their talents to make an impact. For Care Camps, we are a tiny organization that has accomplished mighty things only because of the efforts of hundreds of […]

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To me, leadership is about helping others see their greatest strengths and the opportunities they have to contribute to the greater goal, and then unleashing them to use their talents to make an impact. For Care Camps, we are a tiny organization that has accomplished mighty things only because of the efforts of hundreds of volunteers around the country who did what they could do to raise money for the kids. Each of those volunteers that did a fundraiser demonstrated their own leadership by taking the initiative to do something to make a difference. If I could do anything, it would be to inspire one reader here to choose to make a difference through organizing a simple fundraiser for the kids that Care Camps serves.


As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jennifer Mercer. Jennifer is the Director of Development for Care Camps, a non-profit organization that helps children with cancer find hope and healing outside a hospital through special oncology camps across the nation. Jennifer lives in Billings, Montana and is a fifth generation Montanan, born and raised on a large farm and ranch. After graduating with a double major in Business and managing several for-profit businesses during and after college, Jennifer finally made the leap to the nonprofit world, and is proud to say she hasn’t looked back since.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I was blessed to be born into a family where giving back and service were taught as important values. Thanks to many great examples in my life, I became involved in non-profits and volunteering at a young age, and later in my career had the privilege of leading a non-profit organization that was able to serve our region in significant ways. Once you catch that bug for “giving back”, it is impossible to give up, and I was blessed to have a Care Camps board member remember me from prior work and recommend me for the job. Helping children with cancer find hope and healing in the midst of the hardest timeof their life has been an absolute joy, and I am so lucky to be able to serve this amazing charity.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

I think the most impactful experience I have had was sitting down with some of the kids with cancer that our charity serves, and talking with them about their cancer journey. We talked about their favorite things about camp, and why it is so important to them. I learned that, “Camp is better than Disneyland” partly because it is so fun and allows them to forget about all the “hard stuff” and just be a kid again, but mostly because it offers them a chance to be around other kids who understand exactly what they are going through. At camp they build friendships that help them get through the hardest times and offer a support system year-round.

The most difficult part of the conversation came when I asked them “What has been the hardest part of your cancer journey?” Their answers blew me away. One child said “That’s pretty easy. I think it is knowing I destroyed my entire family’s life”, which was followed by a chorus of “me too”s. What I did not yet understand was that parents of kids with cancer have almost a 90% divorce rate, and many of these children feel responsible for that divorce. One child said, “If I hadn’t gotten cancer, my parents would still be together.” On that day I learned that these kids are dealing with more than we can possibly imagine, from fear of death, to fear that they will survive only to have their cancer return, to overwhelming sadness and loneliness from the isolation that is a product of their disease. The opportunity to laugh together and smile again at camp meant more to them than I had ever understood before.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Oh goodness, this is embarrassing. When I first started, I had an incredibly intense travel schedule, frequently traveling all over the country from one event or meeting to the next, and I was working very long hours. I made the mistake of falling asleep on a flight and woke up with my head lying on the total stranger seated next to me. The small wet spot on his shirt told me that not only had I been sleeping on him, but I had been drooling too! The lesson learned was pretty simple: no matter how tired you are, never, ever fall asleep on a flight. 🙂

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

Kids with cancer face unimaginable emotional challenges both during and after treatment. While hospitals work to achieve physical healing, Care Camps is an organization dedicated to helping these kids find the kind of emotional healing that can only happen outside a hospital. Through Care Camps, kids with cancer are able to experience the healing power of the outdoors, laughing and playing with other kids who understand exactly what it is like to face this illness. While at their Care Camp, kids with cancer learn to replace their fear with bravery, their sadness with joy, and their loneliness with friendship. Children can forget about the chemo, the radiation, and all the hard stuff that comes with cancer and just be a kid again.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

I had the privilege to meet one of our “campers” who is all grown up now, and she spoke about how Care Camps changed her life. At 8 years old, she was one of the “lucky” kids who had survived her cancer, but inside she was struggling with so many emotions. Anger, fear, and a sense of isolation all led her to struggle in both school performance and socially, and it became obvious she was not thriving after her recovery. A school counselor recommended to her parents that she attend a Care Camp, and the rest is history. While at camp, she bonded with the other kids who understood exactly what she was feeling, got the specialized counseling she needed, and she started healing from the inside. Twenty years later, she has just graduated with her master’s degree and recently got married, and each of the bridesmaids in her wedding were friends from her Care Camp. She credited camp with being the driving force in her healing and growth.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

While much funding is given to address the physical healing of kids with cancer, very little has been done to address the emotional needs of these kids. The number one need for Care Camps to continue serving these children is funding. Because of COVID, all three of Care Camps biggest fundraisers had to be cancelled, leaving us with a 50% shortfall in funding to support our kids. Whether it is making a private donation on our website (www.carecamps.org), organizing a fundraiser in your workplace or community, or even doing a simple “Facebook Fundraiser” for our cause on your own page, every dollar of the funds donated will go directly to helping kids find hope and healing. You can also like our social media channels and share our message with your friends to help raise awareness for Care Camps and the amazing kids we serve.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

To me, leadership is about helping others see their greatest strengths and the opportunities they have to contribute to the greater goal, and then unleashing them to use their talents to make an impact. For Care Camps, we are a tiny organization that has accomplished mighty things only because of the efforts of hundreds of volunteers around the country who did what they could do to raise money for the kids. Each of those volunteers that did a fundraiser demonstrated their own leadership by taking the initiative to do something to make a difference. If I could do anything, it would be to inspire one reader here to choose to make a difference through organizing a simple fundraiser for the kids that Care Camps serves.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. I don’t have the ability to save the entire world, so choose where you want to have an impact and do it. For most of my life, I have struggled with being an “over-committer”, and trying to serve too many places simultaneously. (After all, there are so many things that need to be done!) I am still working on learning that I am one person, and each of us is only able to do so much. After all, if you burn yourself out working too much, you won’t have anything left to give later.
  2. Not everyone in life has to love you (or even like you). We are all different creatures, and sometimes you might not be someone’s cup of tea, and that is OK! I have struggled my entire life with being a people pleaser, and I finally realized that I was compromising my identity and value by doing so. My identity is found in my relationship with God, and I try my best not to worry about the rest.
  3. Choose to participate in the hard stuff of life. Childhood cancer is something that many people don’t want to see because it is so devastating. Choose to be there, choose to see, and choose to participate. Your actions make a world of difference.
  4. Sometimes a problem can’t be solved, but you can be there just to listen and offer emotional support.
  5. Stop and smell the roses, because we are never guaranteed another day. I talk to parents and kids all the time whose lives have changed in an instant, and they appreciate the small things in life more than any of us. We live in such a beautiful world, surrounded by wonderful people, and we find true joy and contentment when we take time daily to enjoy God’s creations.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would ask every parent out there to help their kids understand that they each have unique gifts and abilities that can make a difference in the world, and teach them to give back and serve others, even as a kid. Our world would be an entirely different place if every child was raised to look to how they can help someone else and make an impact with their gifts!

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I have been inspired by Warren Buffet and his commitment not only to give back to society, but to challenge other leaders to stand up for what they believe in. Listening to his interviews, he just seems like he would be a fascinating person to get to know on a more personal level.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

If you are looking for a little inspiration and lots of great smiles to fill your week, you can follow Care Camps on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Youtube! All the links are on our website at www.carecamps.org

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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