With exponential growth, Camp Kesem at MIT prepares for its fifth session

In 2000, a group of Stanford University students founded the first chapter of Camp Kesem, dedicated to giving kids of cancer patients a chance to spend time, at no expense, with other children who also had a parent with cancer and who shared similar struggles and worries. Now, each year, for one week in the summer, a group of college students and young campers come together to have fun in the summer, while building the foundation for support and lasting friendships.

In 2006, working with two camp directors, 18 counselors and 13 campers, Rhodes Scholar Caroline Huang ’10 and Vivian Tang ’09 began the MIT chapter of Camp Kesem (CK-MIT). Now, nearly five years later, the CK-MIT family has grown to include more than 50 counselors and 75 campers.

Camp Kesem takes place annually toward the end of August, and preparation for the following year’s camp session begins almost immediately after camp ends each summer. Throughout the year, students connect with families directly and through social workers, therapists and onoclogists in the New England area to recruit campers. Each year, several of the kids at camp are returning campers who spend the year looking forward to Camp Kesem. As one camper puts it, “Camp Kesem is by far the best camp I have ever been to. Everyone there had about the same reason for being there, and it was nice to know others had the same experiences.” Campers’ parents and relatives share their children’s feelings, saying, “The impact [of Camp Kesem] will be a lifetime of good memories.”

Together, kids at Camp Kesem engage in a variety of activities, including arts and crafts, sports, swimming, hiking and performances. Each night, the campers break into small groups and take part in Cabin Chat, where they share their thoughts about how the day went and what they are looking forward to the next day. These nightly chats give way to an all-Camp tradition called the Empowerment Ceremony, where campers and counselors alike come together to share their memories, their worries and their gratitude.

MIT students serving as Camp Kesem counselors and coordinators have also benefited from their camp experiences. As junior Vidya Eswaran, one of CK-MIT’s co-chairs, writes, “I have never seen a group of people so passionate about anything before. We [are] all involved and invested in ensuring that each and every camper [has] the best experience possible.” Other counselors agree, saying, “Of all the clubs and student groups I am involved in at MIT, Camp Kesem is definitely the one that makes me the happiest.”

This seems to hold true for CK campuses all across the United States and is likely the reason why Camp Kesem recently became a LIVESTRONG Community Impact Project award recipient. As a result of this award, several new Camp Kesem chapters will be established next year, and even more families will be able to experience the magic of Camp Kesem.

To make Camp Kesem happen this year, MIT students have worked tirelessly to raise more than $60,000, most of which will go to ensuring that Camp Kesem is, as always, free for all campers who attend. In the past, CK-MIT has been supported by grants from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Genzyme, the MIT Community Service Fund and the Priscilla King Gray Public Service Center. CK-MIT relies almost entirely on outside donations. As such, anyone who wishes to donate to CK-MIT can donate online at tinyurl.com/ck-mit11 or send a check to the following address: Camp Kesem MIT, P.O. Box 397219, Cambridge, MA 02139. Individuals can also donate to Camp Kesem through the MIT Giving Site.

Any questions regarding Camp Kesem MIT can be directed to mit@campkesem.org.

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