This week we spoke with members of the Camp Kesem team—a national organization dedicated to supporting children through and beyond a parent’s cancer with innovative, fun-filled programs.
Q: What is your position with Camp Kesem, and how did you get involved with it?
We both joined Kesem our freshman year not really knowing what to expect. A friend from high school who was heavily involved encouraged Chandler to join, while a new friend at Duke told Katelyn all about the Kesem magic. When our friends told us that Kesem would change our lives, we didn’t believe it until it happened. We immediately fell in love with Kesem. All involved, campers, counselors, donors etc., are remarkable, and it is a pleasure to work together to make a difference in the lives of the campers. Each year we have wanted to become more and more involved with Kesem. Last year, we served as two of the volunteer coordinators and this year we have the awesome opportunity to work as co-directors.
Q: What has been your favorite experience with your organization?
Chandler: There have been so many unforgettable moments during my time with Kesem that it is hard to choose one. Some of these include singing and dancing in the camp cafeteria after meals with 180 campers and counselors, playing Messy Games (in which you get covered in items like chocolate syrup and apple sauce) and the random little things like waking up a little early every morning so you and your camper can play cards before breakfast. However, my favorite event every year is the Talent Show in which campers have the opportunity to perform whatever talent act they choose. These children are absolutely incredible! Acts include singing, free-styling, dancing, juggling rocks, arm wrestling, water-chugging contests, magic tricks and so much more! The best part however is at the end of every act, when each performer gets a standing ovation. Seeing the smile on campers’ faces when the crowd is going crazy is truly a special moment.
Katelyn: My favorite experience occurred myfirst week of camp when I was a counselor for the 12-13 age group. One of my campers was attending camp for the first time, causing her to be reasonably shy and nervous. She was too nervous to participate in many of the camp activities, but she was an amazing artist. We would draw and color during many of the usual activities and, as we did so, campers and counselors would always walk by and compliment her artwork. Each time she received a compliment, I would watch her smile grow a little larger and her shyness dissipate just a little bit more. After a few days, the talent show had arrived. My camper was too shy to perform a talent, but together we decided to show her artwork on stage. When she showed her drawings to the crowd, we watched over 100 people stand up and cheer her on. Her smile was the biggest I’d seen it yet. The next morning, at breakfast, she was all of a sudden talkative and excited. When the meal was over and the usual dance music came on, she suddenly got up and walked onto the stage. In the next instance, she was breaking out the coolest dance moves I’ve ever seen. Some of us started to cheer her on, and soon the entire camp was once again giving her a standing ovation. In a split second, I was able to see how all of the time coloring, the compliments received, and inclusion from so many kids her own age had led her to go from feeling so shy to feeling like a total rock star.
Q: How do you think the events that you host effect the children and students who participate?
Chandler: Camp Kesem is unique in so many ways. It is a week for campers to get away from all the struggles going on at home. These children are forced to grow up earlier than they should, having extra responsibilities, stress and difficulties that no child should have to endure. Camp Kesem provides an opportunity to forget about everything at home and allows children to just have fun and be a child again. But at the same time campers are surrounded by others going through similar situations as them, allowing for close bonds to form. Kesem is a family and that is obvious at camp. The love, care and
compassion that everyone has for one another is unlike any other camp I have seen. Many campers have met some of their best friends at camp, and find ways throughout the year to stay in touch with one another. In addition, reunions each semester allow counselors and campers to reunite. From conversations with parents, it is clear to see how much Kesem means to not only the children but also the family as a whole. Kesem means the world to our campers, and seeing the happiness it brings makes their parents overjoyed. Many parents have discussed how Kesem has positively changed their child’s life and how they count the days until camp. There truly is something magical about Kesem.
Katelyn: Just like my camper on that stage, I believe Kesem gives every kid that comes to camp the chance to feel like a rock star. As Chandler stated, most of the children we serve have been forced to grow up too fast. They not only struggle to find normalcy at home, but it can also be difficult for them to find friends that understand what they’re going through and offer the support that they need. Camp Kesem is the place that campers can go to in order to feel a full sense of community. We call Kesem a family because if provides a consistent support network for campers through which our counselors work every second to make each child feel as loved and special as possible. As for the Duke students who participate, its wrong to think that we’re the only ones impacting lives because these campers will change your life more than you could ever imagine. The strength and compassion that radiates from the 6 to 16 year olds of the Kesem family has positively changed my outlook on life and follows me year round. The other Duke students I work with have also touched my life and have become my best friends. Other than calling Kesem a family, we also talk a lot about Kesem magic. Magic is the only way to describe the amount of joy and love that is shared between members of this community. Any other words to describe these campers and counselors fall short.
Q: If someone wanted to get involved with Camp Kesem how would they go about that?
There are multiple ways to get involved with Camp Kesem! For those interested in becoming a counselor, there is an online application open from November 1st – November 15th. From there, we have an interview stage to get to know applicants better. This interview is in no way stressful, but just a way to meet you and to see if it’s a good fit for camp. If accepted as a counselor, all members become involved in second semester by joining one of our committees. There is a lot that goes on behind the scene in supporting our campers year-round and in making camp possible. Joining a committee allows our members to help in an area of their choosing including Outreach, PR & Marketing, Operations, Volunteer, Development or our Make The Magic Fundraiser.
If anyone is interested in becoming a part of Camp Kesem without being a counselor, please reach out to us! One of the best things about Camp Kesem is that camp is free for families. Lots of fundraising takes place throughout the year. We would love any and all help in organizing and/or hosting fundraising events. Feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if interested!