Summertime evokes images of spending time with friends, fun activies and happy memories being made. Kesem offers just that and a unique experience for children impacted by a parent’s cancer. Their mission is to support children through and beyond a parent’s cancer by working to ensure those children never feel alone. Several surveys and feedback have parents emphasizing the value and importance they’ve seen for their children to know that they have friends who understand what it’s like to have a parent with (or who had) cancer.
This national organization has more than 5,300 college student volunteers representing 136 Kesem college chapters who are responsible for raising funds, planning and hosting it’s flagship program, Camp Kesem, to families in their local communities each summer. More than 80% of the college student volunteers have personally been impacted by cancer themselves. “As someone who has transitioned from camper to counselor, I have tried to give back to the community that served me. After taking on more leadership positions I feel that I have achieved that,” says one college student volunteer.
These types of personal connections create a beautifully organic cyclical nuturing support system. Special moments mean that much more and encourages powerful emotional connection, healing and a sense of hope. Alicia Kabir, Chief Operations Officer, and Domonique Hollins, Chief Brand Officer both expressed how the organization is extremely “grateful to have such talented young adults who uniquely understand the experiences of our campers and support our mission”.
At the forefront of Kesem’s mission is to not only provide amazing camp memories, but also to offer year-round services and works to connect with families outside of camp. One of their services, Kesem by Your Side, allows families to request additional support from Kesem when they need it. Many of these requests are made when parents enter hospice. The child(ren)’s college student leaders support the child(ren) during this difficult part of the cancer journey. “We have been told many times that a parent feels that they can leave this world comforted in knowing that their child(ren) will have the Kesem community to care for them,” says Kabir.
The COVID-19 pandemic obviously made a huge impact on normal programming, but Kesem took the opportunity to bring camp to living rooms across the nation with their virtual program called Kesem at Home. Bringing Camp Kesem online allowed more new families to join in and also allowed parents to gain a deeper insight to the value of Camp Kesem and were even encouraged by the newly designed activities for entire families to get in on the fun! One story stemming from the 2020 Kesem at Home program included a parent seeing first-hand the beneficial transformative experience their child had. They describe their 11-year-old suffered from severe anxiety during quarantine when asked to record themselves for a presentation.
“She was SO nervous even though there was no one in the room with her but a camera. During the talent show for Camp Kesem, she sang acapella for the entire camp. There were 71 people on the Zoom call at the time! Two months ago, this would have been impossible, and the mere thought of it would have resulted in a breakdown. Camp Kesem helped her confidence so much and this has carried over after the end of camp. I cannot say enough how great of an impact this camp, these counsellors and this program have had on my children’s emotional wellbeing. Thank you so much!”
Children are resilient, particularly when provided with the right support. Kesem provides a significant benefit and is a wonderful resource for the cancer community. Camp Kesem is excited to return to in-person programming this Fall 2021. By taking what the pandemic has taught them, Kesem hopes to explore new ways to encourage further growth and strengthening their supportive programs.