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Meet Cassie Nguyen of Spotlight On Hope Film Camp in Downtown

Today we’d like to introduce you to Cassie Nguyen.

Cassie, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
The idea of Spotlight On Hope Film Camp came about when I was interning for and learned of the film camp Think Ten Media Group was running for kids and they learned of my background history of being a 16 years old pediatric brain cancer patient. During and after my experience with cancer, I was exposed to many social outreach activities and camps for pediatric patients, such as dances, arts and crafts, and outdoor activities like rock wall climbing. Having these activities in my life at the time I was going through cancer and afterwards positively impacted me in the sense of the isolation, depression and distress I felt. I knew I wanted to bring that sense of normalcy back into the patients’ lives and had the opportunity to do so when we put the two and two ideas together and they put the project fully in my hands, i.e., getting the funds needed and naming the program. Spotlight On Hope Film Camp had its pilot film camp in 2013 at University of Los Angles School of Film, Theater and Television.

I won a grant from the Donald A. Strauss Foundation that provided a yearlong of SOH film camps to take place at UCLA and then brought it to University of California Riverside in 2015 as started a student chapter. In 2017, I won another grant from Big Ideas Berkeley and expanded programming to University Of Southern California as another student chapter. This will be UCR’s 5th year providing programming and USC’s 3rd year.

With this being our 7th year up and running, my goals for Spotlight On Hope Film Camp is creating partnerships with local hospitals or other health organizations to become financially sustainable not solely relying on grants, donations, volunteers, and in kind donations.

I recently read a headline titled Hurt. Heal. Help. It helped me realize that that is what I am doing with Spotlight On Hope Film Camp. I was hurt, healed and am helping by providing Spotlight On Hope Film Camp.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Thankfully, yes, it has been a smooth road. One year after the other, new opportunities arise and we are blessed that these come somewhat effortlessly in a sense. The most challenging thing is now trying to get contracts with hospitals or other health organizations so that SOH programming could be paid for and an income could be provided to start a formal board and staff to carry out SOH. Anything really that gives us the opportunity to become financially sustainable. We currently rely on grants, volunteers and in kind donations.

Spotlight On Hope Film Camp – what should we know? What do you do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
Spotlight On Hope Film Camp provides free film instruction workshops to pediatric and young adult cancer patients and their families. They learn the ins and outs of the film making process and create and edit a short film or animation of their own. After all the films from the camps are edited, a red carpet screening is held to showcase the finished productions to the producers, their family and friends and the community.

At the camps, patients get to spend quality time with their families doing something creative and unlike anything else that is offered. By having a therapeutic outlet where they can use their imaginations, creativity and humor, patient’s mental wellness improves, they find a sense of self-worth and are able to escape into the magical stories they create.

Seeing the families interact with each other and the joy it brings them; the smiles it brings them is what I am most proud of.

Evidence shows that art-based interventions are effective in reducing adverse psychological and physiological outcomes according to the American Journal of Public Health (Stuckey, 2010). SOH participants produce their own film, have a fun time doing so and learn career skills, such as animating short films, writing story plots, acting, and directing that creates a sense of escape from distress and anxiety which ultimately enhances their progress in becoming healthy. “[SOH] takes them [the patients and siblings] away from the pain. It also helps us [the parents] deal with the stress that comes along with it,” Mary Barajas, mother of SOH participants.

SOH provides a positive experience and memory for the family during a very dark period of their lives.

What is “success” or “successful” for you?
I define success by how many families we serve with quality film instruction that leave happy and smiling. By accomplishing our vision where all cancer families are served, SOH needs to be financially sustainable so that a formal board and staff can be created.

Our mission is to provide free film instruction classes that engage pediatric and young adult cancer patients and their families as an outlet for them to alleviate and escape the trauma, depression and distress associated with one of the most life-threatening diseases. Our vision is All children and families impacted by cancer have enhanced mental wellbeing and self worth by sharing their stories.

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