Each year, hundreds college students from across the United States flock to Boca Raton, Florida to become Gift of Life Campus Ambassadors. For three action-packed days in the beautiful tropical climate, they learn about managing volunteers, running recruitment drives on their campus, and the science that makes curing blood cancer possible through a stem cell or marrow transplant. During fun activities like bowling, they build relationships with other students.
This fall, 445 Campus Ambassadors will represent Gift of Life at 137 universities and colleges across the country. Due to the staggered starting dates at universities in different regions, and the large number of Campus Ambassadors this year, two separate sessions were held on July 24 – 26 and August 14 – 16, 2023.
Known as CAPs, these college students are personally drawn to support Gift of Life’s mission to ensure that every person needing a blood stem cell or marrow transplant has a donor available in the registry. Since 90% of donors requested by transplant physicians are between 18 and 35 years old, college campuses are the ideal place to recruit new donors.
The program began as a pilot in 2014 and rapidly became a highly-regarded internship program, and a way of growing the registry substantially. To date, more than 95,000 new donors have joined the registry at CAP recruitment drives, resulting in more than 4,300 matches for patients, and 455 completed, lifesaving stem cell and marrow transplants.
“The Campus Ambassador Program has been successful far beyond our expectations,” said Gift of Life’s Donor Recruitment Director Chris Camacho, who heads the program. “We have CAPs who have become donors themselves, we have others who have organized huge mega-drives that recruit thousands of donors per semester. The passion of the CAPs for our mission and their dedication to saving lives is incredible.”
During each of the two symposiums, CAPs witnessed the introduction of a stem cell or marrow donors to their recipients. Since transplants are anonymous and must remain so for the first year, these meetings are always highly emotional and heartwarming.
At the July symposium, 15-year-old Michael Johnson, who battled Fanconi anemia for years, met his donor Adam Leblanc, 21, the Florida Atlantic University student who saved his life with a blood stem cell donation. Read their story.
Dr. Benjamin "Benji" Merzel speaks to the Campus Ambassadors about the importance of running drives. It was a drive he organized in 1995 that found Jay Feinberg's matching bone marrow donor, Becky Keller.
The second CAP symposium was a special event for everyone at Gift of Life, as Dr. Benji Merzel joined us to talk about his role in helping to find Gift of Life Founder and CEO Jay Feinberg’s donor, Becky Keller, in 1994. One of Benji’s friends had received a transplant from a donor who tested for Jay, and he wanted to run a drive to help pay it forward. But, after four years of searching and with Jay’s health declining, the Feinbergs had not planned to run any more drives. Benji’s enthusiasm and hopefulness resulted in his holding one last drive, and the last person tested that day was Becky, who turned out to be Jay’s perfect match. He received his bone marrow transplant soon afterward.
After sharing this incredible story, Benji introduced one of Gift of Life’s courageous transplant recipients to the heroic donor who saved his life. Michael Stern, 66, was diagnosed with Myelodysplastic Syndrome, a precursor to leukemia, and is now back to working out and golfing thanks to his donor, 22-year-old Raphael Eidelman, a recent graduate of California State University Northridge. Read their story.
During the fall semester, the CAPs will be making educational presentations about the registry’s mission, and running hundreds of recruitment drives to add new donors and diversify the registry. A listing of upcoming drives and their locations, sortable by state, can be accessed on our Events page.
If you or a family member would like to become a Campus Ambassador, please visit our website for more information and to apply.