Savanna Thomas always knew she wanted to work with kids; she just wasn’t sure what form it would take. UNC Greensboro helped her find that niche, and in the fall, Thomas was officially recognized for her outstanding leadership and service.
Thomas was one of 18 students selected from statewide colleges and universities to receive the Community Impact Award from North Carolina Campus Compact, honoring one student leader at each school. The Charlotte native is a junior pursuing a degree in community and therapeutic recreation with a minor in American Sign Language.
“Summer camp is one of those experiences that’s so intentional about personal development, but it’s not accessible to certain populations.”
Thomas was identified for her pioneering work as the founder of UNCG’s chapter of Camp Kesem, a free summer camp for children ages 6 to 18 who have been impacted by a parent’s cancer. Kesem is a nationwide community whose programs are driven by college student leaders like Thomas. The camp provides year-round support services for children and is run completely by unpaid student volunteers.
“Summer camp is one of those experiences that’s so intentional about personal development, but it’s not accessible to certain populations,” Thomas said. “I realized the power it can have on a person’s confidence and ability to connect with people. Camp helps develop things like empathy, understanding, and compassion.”
UNCG was instrumental in helping Thomas, her co-director MaryKent Wolff, and their hard-working executive board launch Camp Kesem, as well as cementing Thomas’s career trajectory working in youth development for underserved populations.
“Classes are really, really focused on things that are going to be applicable,” Thomas said. “Everything is so hands on, and you get the experience you need.”
Under her leadership, the UNCG chapter of Camp Kesem has grown to more than 40 members. This past summer, Thomas and her team raised $35,000 to send 32 children to camp free of charge. They also trained 25 student leaders to serve as counselors.
Off campus, Thomas serves as the out of school time coordinator for the City of Greensboro.
She has also worked in UNCG’s Office of Leadership and Civic Engagement as a student reflection leader for service-learning courses and as a student assistant for community engagement.
This year, Thomas and team have set a goal to raise $45,000 to support 45 children for their week at Camp Kesem in August. To learn more about Camp Kesem at UNCG and opportunities to support the cause, visit the camp website.
Story by Elizabeth L. Harrison, University Communications
Photography by Martin W. Kane, University Communications
Camp Kesem photograph provided by Savanna Thomas