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Elizabeth Lizberg

Camp Rainbow Gold leader talks about working with kids and moving her organization into an independent nonprofit


There's a photo banner that scrolls across the top of the Camp Rainbow Gold website showing children at play, having what looks like the time of their lives. The children have cancer diagnoses—some are cancer survivors—and CRG specializes in giving them and their families outdoor summer experiences at two camps in the Wood River Valley.

Elizabeth Lizberg has been the executive director at CRG since 2007. In 2014, she moved her organization out from under the auspices of the American Cancer Society to make it an independent nonprofit organization, building a board of directors, fundraising and hiring new staff.

Boise Weekly caught up with her to talk about kids with cancer, CRG and getting her start working with child victims of crime and abuse.

You've been executive director since 2007. How has your role as a leader changed?

Under the ACS, my title said "executive director," but I was really leading a program.

We didn't have to do anything to support our programs, so the transition has been from that view to leader of an organization that has over a $1 million budget now and eight employees.

I've gone from a lot of hands-on to discussions about what our T-shirts are going to look like to how are we going to raise the funds to support the program.

How do you bring levity to kids with cancer?

We're unique in that we encompass the entire family. There are studies showing the siblings have more long-term [psychological] effects than the child with cancer.

What we believe we're bringing back in is some hope, some laughter and some fun. When you do that and you see the laughter—and the laughter's the thing that's the best—you know [you've] been successful and you know they're receiving so much good.

What are some of the things that come out of retreats and camps?

They bring up a lot of bullying issues. They have what's "kindly" referred to as "chemo brain." Teens are cruel. We try to support them through that.

We do the family camp where the whole family comes up. One of the most powerful nights of that camp is, we split the kids from the parents and the parents actually do sit in a circle and say what their stories are. I was asked to come, and it was one of the most powerful hours of my life hearing these families talk about their experiences.

What about outcomes?

A lot of our campers grow up and become counselors. One of our favorite stories is a young man named Tim, that had brain cancer, who was a camper. He was a junior counselor, he's now a doctor in Coeur d'Alene.

His dream that he's working on: He builds prosthetics for children.

His big dream is one day to open a nonprofit here in Boise to provide free prosthetics to kids that have lost limbs.

How did you start working with children?

I had a daughter that weighed 2 pounds when she was born, so I pretty much lived at St. Luke's and was trying to get back on my feet because I was recently divorced, no job, recently had a baby. [The staff at St. Luke's] started learning my story and one of them said, "Hey, there's a part-time secretary position at the CARES unit." I moved into a job called [multi-disciplinary team] coordinator.

When a child is abused, oftentimes they have to tell their stories eight to 10 times in order to get somebody prosecuted for that abuse. CARES' role was to do a forensic interview on behalf of law enforcement and Health and Welfare to get the details, and for the prosecutor's office as well. I made sure everyone had the right reports.

However, being a single parent with a daughter and hearing those stories, I became jaded. My brother, who had been active in CRG for years, called me one day and said, "I know you want to change. The perfect job is open."

I took the job and haven't looked back since.

What's the next big step for CRG?

We currently lease our properties. Our dream is to own our own camp. So many stars have to align to make that happen. One thing our board and myself agree on is we don't feel like our future is secure because we're leasing a campsite.