Camp Kesem: A Child’s Friend Through and Beyond a Parent’s Cancer

Kesem is a national organization and community that supports children through and beyond their parent’s cancer. About 5 million children have been impacted by a parent’s cancer, and Kesem is now the largest national organization devoted to this important and often overlooked population.

First founded in 2000 by Stanford University students, Kesem now has 116 university chapters across 42 states, and serves over 9,000 children, ten times the number of kids they supported ten years ago.

Camp Kesem, its principal program, provides a free week-long summer camp to these children, allowing them to connect with others who have had similar experiences. This provides them with a support-system of peers and counselors, a safe environment for them to have fun and rediscover their childhood. “Kesem” means “magic” in Hebrew, which illustrates the organization’s mission to bring magic and happiness to families affected by cancer. Kesem’s overarching goal is to continue expanding and to support more children every year through camp, fostering a long lasting community.

My Role at Camp Kesem

Having been part of the Camp Kesem chapter at Columbia University as both a counselor and as the Alumni, Marketing, and Public Relations Coordinator, I have seen the impact that Kesem has over time. Being able to get to know the children and experience camp first-hand solidified my unwavering support for Kesem. In 2016 and 2018, I was also the camp videographer, and had the opportunity to film and edit the promotional videos meant for potential families, counselors, and donors, as well as for the current campers to look back on and show their loved ones.

Beyond graduation, I have supported the organization by donating to the Columbia University chapter, attending reunions, and following Kesem’s progress as a whole. 

Making Magic Year Round

Each Camp Kesem university chapter spends all year to fundraise, train new counselors, organize events, and prepare for the week-long summer camp they provide free of charge. Each counselor is encouraged to raise a certain amount of money, and each chapter organizes multiple fundraising events for students and outside donors to participate, the biggest one being “Make the Magic.” In addition to this, campers have the opportunity to stay connected with the counselors through bi-annual reunions throughout the year, as well as a pen pal program.

Although there are rightfully many organizations that offer support to individuals and children with cancer, children who have been impacted by a parent’s cancer are an important segment of the population who should also be given a safe space to relate to other kids. 99% of parents feel their child has benefitted from attending Camp Kesem.

Kesem is driven by more than 5,000 college student leaders across the United States. This also empowers the counselors to make a difference in their communities, and makes Kesem a very personal organization. 

Growth and Resilience 

 A recent success that Kesem achieved on a national level is that they are now serving more than 9,000 children, and plan to keep expanding on that. As each chapter makes up the entirety of the Kesem community, any progress made within those subsets is very much felt at the national level, whether it is moving to a larger campsite due to increased awareness, receiving a surplus of donations, receiving a large number of counselor applications, or the founding of a new university chapter. All of these are essential to Kesem’s continued success.

Since Camp had to be done virtually for the first time ever this year due to COVID-19, each chapter pivoted and planned for these extenuating circumstances, creating the programming “Kesem at Home.” This was both at the national and chapter level, and each camper had a schedule tailored to them and their needs. Kesem is committed to ensuring that all campers remain valued, connected, and heard, no matter the format. This is exactly Kesem’ vision as a whole: to have every child impacted by a parent’s cancer to be supported.

One of the Columbia University Chapter’s main goals for the upcoming year is to increase and diversify their individual and corporate community contact in the New York City area in order to spread the word about Kesem and reach more potential families and donors. To learn how to get involved, please contact columbia@campkesem.org for more information. Click here to contribute to the fund that makes camp possible!

By Aimée Auguin


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