Kaley Turner is a senior from St. Simons Island, Georgia, and has always held St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in a special place in her heart. At age 7, Turner’s closest family-friend was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer and St. Jude was the only hospital that was willing to take the extreme measures to treat and ultimately save him. During the two years when the family was commuting back and forth from Memphis to Georgia, for the young boy’s treatment, Turner and her family stepped in and did anything they could to help. It was an experience that she would never let go of.
“I was unbelievably lucky to have such a great childhood, so seeing kids not have a chance to grow-up normally, because of such a hard disease, breaks my heart,” Turner said.
Once she got to college and had to figure out what she wanted to do with her life, she knew she had to do something for those kids. Turner immediately got involved on campus in organizations that helped children with cancer. For the past three years, she has served a cabin counselor and year-round volunteer at Smile-A-Mile. During her junior year at Auburn, she was elected as the National Philanthropy Chair for her sorority that has a partnership with St. Jude.
Smiles for Miles
Smile-A-Mile is Alabama’s program that provides hope for children with cancer and their families. It is a year-round program, but it’s most popular programs are their weeklong summer camp sessions for children either in remission or in the midst of their treatment.
As a camp-counselor, Turner is assigned one camper and provides them with the best week of their life. They let go of all worries and pain for the week and just have fun. Together, they do all the typical summer camp activities like tubing, arts and crafts, archery, etc. The week revolves around the camper, and they get to do whatever they want. During that one week, strong bonds and memories are made.
She continues relationships made by visiting and keeping up with her campers, and their families. When she’s not at camp, Turner volunteers at various Smile-A-Mile events that are put on year-round in Birmingham.
Her work at Smile-A-Mile has not only affected the campers but her as well. “This past year three of my campers have passed away, which has been so difficult for all of us. I had formed such strong relationships with each of them, and I think about them a lot,” Turner said. “I get mad just thinking about all the kids whose lives are cut short because of cancer… thinking of them reminds me to always be appreciative for the life I have and pushes me to keep working until there is a cure.”
Working with St. Jude…
As the national philanthropy chair at Auburn, Turner organizes numerous fundraisers throughout the year that raises money for the hospital and it’s housing units. She gets to see where that hard-work and money goes off to, by visiting St. Jude every year. During her visits, she has the opportunity to interact with patients. She toured the Tri Delta Place, which provides free short-term lodging for patients and their families.
Turner’s position and time at Auburn will soon expire, but that wont stop her from working with and impacting the lives of these children. After graduating in May 2018, she hopes to work for St. Jude’s marketing department. “I love the idea of working with families and gathering their stories to distribute to media… I want to be as hands-on as possible,” Kaley said.