Kesem in Hebrew means “magic.” Magic is indeed what occurred nationwide during this past summer at the sixty, free summer camps for kids ages 6-16 who have a parent diagnosed with cancer. Camp Kesem estimates there are more than 3 million kids affected by a parent’s cancer. Camp Kesem, “recognizes and embraces this often-overlooked population of children. Because they don’t appear sick, their needs are often over looked and they suffer quietly, leading to academic, social, emotional, and developmental problems.”
There are lots of summer camps out there, but there are a few things that make Camp Kesem unique. Camp Kesem chapters are all founded and managed locally through college campuses. Camp Kesem promotes leadership development in college students. Roughly 70% of all Camp Kesem student volunteers have had a personal experience of their own with cancer; in a parent, grandparent, sibling or friend. These student volunteers are dedicated to providing kids with a respite, away from dealing with the day-to-day challenges of having a parent with cancer. The focus at camp is FUN; and campers are encouraged to share their experiences and given a safe space to talk with counselors and other kids who are going through similar stuff. This helps kids to feel less isolated and to normalize their experiences. Each Camp Kesem session is staffed with a licensed professional counselor, to provide mental health counseling, and nurses, to assist in care for anything from a scraped knee to medication management. Camp Kesem tries to accommodate any special needs children may have, including physical disabilities, hearing impairment and behavioral challenges. Camp Kesem estimates that 5-10% of their campers have special needs.
There are currently 63 Camp Kesem chapters across the country. Camp Kesem has grown exponentially since it began in 2001 at Stanford University. Since 2010, the number of campers participating in camps nationwide has blossomed from 1400 to 4000 and the organization has nearly tripled its number of chapters in the same period of time. There is clearly a need for this type of organization and its services and Camp Kesem continues to be invested in reaching more kids and developing more student leaders!
Camp Kesem student volunteers are the leaders of tomorrow. They are a special group of young adults. They are motivated, creative, devoted and invested in making a difference. Through their involvement in Camp Kesem chapters, students gain firsthand experience in fundraising, finance, programming, training, marketing and project management as they bring much-needed happiness to truly deserving kids. In addition to real-world skills, Camp Kesem advocates and encourages compassion, empathy and the drive to serve others. Camp Kesem prides itself on its remarkable 3:1 camper to counselor ratio, guaranteeing lots of personal support and attention to the campers. Many campers return to camp year after year, revisiting relationships formed over a common bond and supporting each other through the ups and downs of coping with a parent’s cancer diagnosis, treatment and survivorship.
I have been privileged to be involved with the Camp Kesem University of Pennsylvania Chapter since its beginnings in 2010. I serve as a community member of the chapter’s advisory committee. In this role, I help raise funds for camp, recruit campers, support the activities of the chapter and promote a successful camp experience for both the student volunteers and the kids who attend camp. I’ve been fortunate to visit our camp the last three years with my therapy dogs, Gus and Finn. It has been amazing for me to witness the magic of Camp Kesem and to share in the joy that each camp week brings to the campers and the student volunteers. I’ve bonded with some special campers who love interacting with the dogs when we visit camp and whom I look forward to seeing. I feel like I’m watching these kids grow and learn and live, while facing an amazingly challenging time within their family.
Interested in going to camp? Visit the Camp Kesem website where you can register a camper and be linked with a local chapter. Interested in helping to raise funds or making a donation to Camp Kesem? You can also attend your local chapter’s special fundraising events; for example, here at UPENN we do zumbathons, coffee house nights and a silent auction. These events are always great fun AND help to raise money for this great organization. Maybe you could serve on a local chapter’s advisory committee? These are all ways to get to know the counselors and observe their excitement for making the magic happen at camp. They also make a direct impact on achieving the Camp Kesem mission and reaching children who will benefit from Camp Kesem’s amazing programs. To get involved, visit the Camp Kesem website.
Get to know Camp Kesem, I guarantee, you won’t regret getting involved with this wonderful organization and brightening the lives of kids coping with cancer.