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Spotlight Nonprofit: Summer camp brings back the “magic” for children of cancer patients

LatinaLista — There are over one million cancer cases a year in the United States. The process of getting well takes its toll not only on the cancer patients but their families too — especially the children.

A child with a parent who has cancer finds their lives suddenly turned upside down. There’s suddenly a sick parent who can’t do everything that he/she did before; less money coming in to buy even basic needs and pay bills; and the most important question that every child can’t stop thinking about — Is mommy or daddy going to die?

Living day to day in such a situation with real life-and-death questions hanging overhead makes anyone’s life hard but for a child it robs them of their innocence and childhood. What these children need is a little bit of magic, or kesem (the Hebrew word for magic) back in their lives.

And for one week each summer that’s exactly what children of cancer patients receive at a camp all their own — Camp Kesem.

Camp Kesem started in 2000 by four college students at Stanford University who wanted to bring a little childhood joy back into the lives of these children who are having to face adult situations before their time. Run as any other typical summer camp, Camp Kesem, led by college students, provides the usual summer camp activities — sports, drama, arts and crafts — to children, ages 6-16, with a few tweaks.

Knowing that these children need extra attention, as well as, an outlet to talk about what is happening back home, Camp Kesem keeps the ratio of counselors to campers small and trains counselors in how to deal with children’s grief. Each night, the children participate in “Cabin Chats” where children share their stories with the larger group, but emotional support is as far as the camp provides. There is no kind of therapy done at the camp for the children.

Since it began, the Camp Kesem model has grown from 2001-2010 from a single campus hosting 37 campers to a national movement serving over 1200 campers at 23 camps.

Though Camp Kesem targets relieving the emotional overload on children of cancer patients, the program also has the additional objective of instilling in college students the awareness and passion of helping others.


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