Staff

George Laufenberg

Executive Director

Years at Camp: Joined in 2023

“I’m a medical anthropologist by training—which means I think a lot about the relationships between healing, wellbeing, community, and culture. In that field, there’s a helpful distinction between ‘disease’ and ‘illness’, where ‘disease’ is the proper object of medical intervention (that is, the thing doctors treat in clinical settings), and where ‘illness’ is more like ‘the experience of having a particular disease’. In this sense, Camp is a genuinely critical treatment for the illness of cancer. So when we say that ‘Camp changes lives’, this is what we mean: Camp Māk-A-Dream has an extraordinary capacity to meet people at some of the most challenging points in their lives, and to offer them compelling, transformative encounters—with the stunning natural beauty of Montana; with new and instant friends; and, above all, the kind of encounters campers have with themselves, in which they get the chance to have a radically different experience of themselves and their worlds.”

Prior to joining Camp, George has worked primarily in education, government, and the non-profit world—through which he has developed deep skills in leadership, strategy, communications, and program design. Throughout, his work has been animated by a single question: how do people change their worlds? And across contexts ranging from wilderness therapy, to university classrooms, to senior executive service in state government, the answer has been remarkably consistent: it’s about relationships—deep, meaningful connections—through which people come to better understand, and to trust, just how much power they have to change their own worlds.

Originally from the East Coast, George earned a Ph.D. in Cultural Anthropology from Princeton University, where he taught for six years. He lives in Missoula, Montana with his family.

Jennifer Benton

Camp Co-Director

Years at Camp: Joined in 1996

“Since first volunteering, then joining the staff in 1995, I’ve been fortunate enough to hold several different positions and witness countless milestones and special moments here at Camp. Whether it’s watching the growth and success of our annual RATPOD cycling event, or welcoming former campers back years after their cancer to serve in a volunteer capacity, or sending someone down the zip line for the first time, magical moments happen day after day in this land of dreams. I feel fortunate to play some small part in helping those who come to Camp make memories, build confidence and form lifelong friendships.”

Jennifer began as a volunteer with Camp our very first summer in 1995. The next year she joined our team full time and has served in a number of roles over the years. Outside of Camp she also serves on the Board of Directors for the Children's Oncology Camping Association, International, has served on the board for Ovarian Cancer Survivors Foundation based of Montana and volunteers with other area non-profit organizations. A graduate of Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota, Jennifer immediately discovered Camp after moving out West and enjoys camping, fishing, hiking, skiing and exploring with her husband and two black labs.

Lauren Bender

Camp Co-Director

Years at Camp: Joined in 2022

Lauren grew up in Idaho and graduated from the University of Montana with a degree in Social Work. She spent 8 years as the Program Director at a camp in Idaho and has been part of the Camp Mak-A-Dream team for a year. Lauren enjoys any and all sports, music, and exploring the outdoors.

“Camp is all about the people! It is such a privilege to meet so many incredible people at camp and hear their stories!”

Jake Wood

Facilities Director

Years at Camp: Joined in 2002

“My favorite thing about working at Camp is meeting all the great people and the view never gets old!”

A Montana native, Jake first started as a groundskeeper and maintenance assistant at Camp in 2002. He was promoted to property manager in 2006. Jake quite literally keeps the wheels on the bus and the roof over our heads.

Kelsey Werner

Assistant Camp Director

Years at Camp: Joined in 2023

"Working at a summer camp has been an integral part of my story and I am thrilled to be back in this space. I am looking forward to working with our staff and volunteers to create impactful experiences for our campers." 

Kelsey grew up in California at the beach but moved up to the mountains in Missoula in 2016 after graduating with her BA in Sociology. She has a background of administrative roles in social work related fields. She enjoys hiking, rafting, reading, and sharing meals with friends.

Jen Emendorfer-Wade

Camper Manager

Years at Camp: Joined in 2016

"My Camp journey started years ago when I volunteered as a concierge at Winter YAC. Camp quickly became one of my happy places and opened my eyes to what I wanted to do when I 'grew up.' I knew someday I wanted to find my place within the cancer community, helping others find their way to resources and the support they needed to make a difficult time a little easier. Thanks to a twist of fate, that place ended up being the same one that started me on this journey. I was offered a position as the Program Administrative Assistant in 2016 and have loved every minute since I emphatically accepted!

"I have the pleasure of helping campers with their application paperwork and answering questions to prepare them for their adventure. I get to be among the first to greet out-of-state campers when they arrive at the airport, and one of the last to say goodbye as everyone prepares to fly home. I love chatting with everyone at the end of their week, seeing the friendships that formed or grew in only a few days, and hearing about what made Camp special for them."

Jen volunteered in our foundation office in Missoula in 2001 and went to Camp her first time as a concierge for the 2002 Winter Young Adult Conference and returned for subsequent summer and winter programs for two years. A graduate from the University of Montana with a bachelor's degree in psychology, Jen is delighted to work closely with our program staff.

Kelly Valerius

Brand Development & Community Engagement Manager

Years at Camp: Joined in 2022

Kelly was born and raised in Minnesota and earned her undergraduate degree from Drake University in business management. She then moved to North Carolina and began her career in finance with SBA Lending, while completing her MBA at UNC Charlotte. She moved to Missoula in the spring of 2020 and fell in love with the mountains, the people and the endless adventures. Kelly spends her free time hiking, skiing, and riding horses.

“Camp is an incredible place that touches the lives of so many people. I am proud to work with such a great team to help create lifelong connections and an unforgettable experience for our campers.”

Elissa Rankin

Health Center Manager & Nurse Educator

Years at Camp: Joined 2023

Elissa (EJ) has lived all over the PNW and currently calls Portland OR home base. She graduated summa cum laude from Gonzaga University with her BSN and minors in philosophy and international relations. When she's not at camp, you can find her with her nose in a book, jumping in any available body of water, or asking if she can pet your dog.

"I firmly believe that healing happens best in community, and I am honored to be joining a team that facilitates that."

Linda Baldwin

Business Operations & Donor Relations Coordinator

Years at Camp: Joined in 2019

“I found Camp Mak-A-Dream through participating in the RATPOD ride several years ago. The compassion, fun, gratitude and support were outstanding. Meeting the people and knowing what I was aligning with sparked a familiarity in me to beliefs about community and service I’d had all of my life. I knew someday I would find a way to serve the camp more permanently! Whether I am working in the office, or at camp meeting amazing people and looking out over the luscious scenery, this camp has a magical and beautiful quality that has to be experienced. I am honored to be a part of the team.”

Linda grew up in Montana, and comes from a background in health care and nutrition, adventure and bicycle travel, and overall service. She’s a born “foodie” and loves to indulge her creativity in the kitchen.

Maria Davis Thrasher

Bookkeeping & Business Operations Coordinator

Years at Camp: Joined in 2020

“Montana is my happy place and I am thrilled to be working behind the scenes for other cancer survivors. I truly wish it had existed to support myself and my family at the beginning of my cancer journey. I cannot wait to see it in action for all the people who need its beauty and camaraderie.”

Maria has an accounting degree from Siena College. She has been providing accounting services in a variety of fields for virtually all of her working life. She lives in the Sapphire Mountains with her husband and all their critters, including three horses. She spends the majority of her free time on horseback or reading a good book.

Lori Wood

Housekeeping Manager

Years at Camp: Joined in 2018

Lori was born and raised in Montana. After helping out at an Open House for Camp Māk-A-Dream in 2018, she immediately fell in love with the magic of Camp. Lori enjoys fishing, hunting, spending time in the mountains, and watching things grow in her garden.

"I love my job so much - I feel like I should have been here sooner!"

Alexa Martinez

Assistant Camp Chef

Years at Camp: Joined in 2023

Alexa grew up in Deer Lodge, Montana. Her goal in this life is to spread love and joy through food. She is passionate about wholesome ingredients and supporting people through local food systems. Alexa attended the Culinary Institute of Montana and have been involved with Camp for as long as she can remember. In her free time she enjoys painting, quilting, and gardening.