Being the child of a parent with cancer can be emotionally and physically stressful. For combat this, the University’s chapter of Camp Kesem has consistently provided a bit of magic, or “kesem” in Hebrew, to serve as a period of respite for children coping with family illness.
Camp Kesem is a student-run organization that coordinates and fundraises for a free week-long summer camp for children whose parents currently have or have had cancer. The organization also strives to empower college students by teaching them leadership skills through organizing fundraising projects and volunteering as camp counselors.
The project started at Stanford University in 2000 and has since grown to 41 chapters. The University’s chapter started in 2011 and now has about 40 members.
For the 2013 session of Camp Kesem, there were more than 100 student applications for counselor positions and more than 80 campers signed up less than a month after applications were released. There are expected to be between 50 and 60 student volunteer counselors. Because of the increased number of camper applications, the club plans to add a second week to the session.
LSA senior Michael Ho, fundraising coordinator for Camp Kesem, said the strong support system the camp creates for the children is invaluable in helping them cope with the stresses of home life.
“Camp Kesem is important because kids whose parents have cancer are part of an underserved population with few resources available,” Ho said. “Camp Kesem provides a safe, loving environment for kids to share feelings and experiences with others who know what they have gone through.”
Recent LSA graduate Anna Shatsman, co-chair of the program, said the camp creates a strong bonds between counselors and campers.
“I love how Camp Kesem is not only creating a network, but more importantly a family of people you can always rely on and stay in touch with for your entire life,” said Shatsman.
Along with giving back to the community, college students cultivate qualities of leadership that are vital for creating a long-term social impact according LSA senior Joanna Gross, co-chair of Camp Kesem.
“Our counselors develop impeccable communication skills and learn how to market our ‘Kesem’ brand in order to fundraise and make community contacts,” she said. “It is so much more than being a camp counselor for the week.”
The club holds fundraising events throughout the year. Before winter break, they launched a campaign in which student volunteers sent letters to friends and family members asking for donations — raising $10,000. The club’s Creepy Caterpillar Crawl 5K, held last fall, was also a success, members said.
Ho said he aspires for the mission of the organization to reach every child with affected parents.
Upcoming club events include a benefit dinner on Feb. 12th at 7 p.m. in the East Hall Psych Atrium and a silent auction and luncheon event “Make the Magic” in mid-March.