A couple of weekends back, Cowbucker had the privilege of joining the University of Oregon Camp Kesem team on a hike to Mount Pisgah to learn more about this awesome nationwide organization. Kesem is a community sustained by college students that supports children through their parent’s cancer by providing a free week-long camp each summer for the kids to escape to.
Each year, Camp Kesem counselors individually raise money to send a kid to camp. At camp, the kids have an opportunity to break away from their parent’s cancer and get back to doing what they do best – being kids. Student leaders are the ones who sustain the chapters all across the country and organize everything that goes into preparing for camp, including year-long fundraising efforts to help send multiple kids. Not only does the camping trip allow kids to be surrounded by others who are going through the same experience, it builds up their confidence, provides them with a support network and imparts strong communication skills. Kesem understands that kids need to be seen and heard, but that they also need to have fun. While camp is an opportunity for kids to gain support from others and have a shoulder to lean on, there is no shortage of fun summer activities all week. One of the best parts of Kesem is that camp is free for as many years as children want to attend, and more often than not, that is for multiple summers.
The concept of Camp Kesem was originally started at Stanford University in 2000, but the University of Oregon chapter began in 2011. In that short time, there has already been great growth in Kesem with everything from fundraising to volunteer recruitment, and the UO is proud to have developed a nationally recognized chapter. The organization now serves roughly 7,000 children a year with over 105 free summer camps across the country in total.
Because college students spearhead most of the Kesem efforts across the country, there are many opportunities in college, but that is not the only way to get involved. One of the biggest ways to support Camp Kesem is through donation and fundraising efforts. Every little bit counts when it comes to donations, but if donating is not an option, there are plenty of camp volunteer opportunities through nursing or mental health professional positions.
Many camp counselors initially get involved with Camp Kesem due to a personal connection, while others are simply inspired by the cause. When asked what sparked her interest in Kesem, senior and co-director Blair Biggar said she wanted to work with kids going through a similar experience, as her mom went through breast cancer treatment growing up. She mentions that the impact that the kids have had on her life is the most rewarding part. “The kids that come to our camp are the bravest humans that I have ever met.”
Safe to say that Kesem is equally as impactful for the counselors as it is for the kids. One of the most commonly heard phrases from parents at the end of a week at camp is, “You gave me my child back.” Keep your eyes peeled for an upcoming cap coming soon to celebrate all that Camp Kesem does for kids across the nation.
Learn more about University of Oregon's Camp Kesem program and DONATE HERE!
Find a Camp Kesem near you on the national organization's website: campkesem.org.