A Story of Impact: Camp Kesem

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Below is an example of the powerful programs to be funded through this year’s Community Impact Project. Your can bring programs like Camp Kesem to your hometown. Vote today at vote.livestrong.org.

Camp Kesem is very excited to be chosen as a recipient of the LIVESTRONG Community Impact Project. When a parent is diagnosed with cancer, the entire family is affected. However, we have found that while there are support services for cancer patients, there are very few options for children whose parents are battling this horrific disease. Camp Kesem is unique in offering these children a FREE summer camp experience ? where they are surrounded by peers and counselors who can uniquely relate to the emotions and fears they are facing.

Last year, Camp Kesem created ?magic? for over 1,200 children whose parents are coping with cancer. Along the way, Camp Kesem also trained and developed over 800 student leaders, who channeled their passion for making a difference into this incredible organization. But sadly, today, we are serving less than 0.1% of the families who could benefit from our services, and we are forced to run waiting lists at our existing camps. With LIVESTRONG funding, Camp Kesem will be able to open 12 new Camp Kesem chapters? an increase of 50% in just one year. We hope that by bringing Camp Kesem to many more families, we will be able to impact thousands of lives, like Aparna?s, who shares her story ? both as a camper and then as a student leader – below.

Testimonial from Aparna Bhat (camp name ?Jazzle?)
Camp Kesem UC Berkeley Student Leader, Camp Kesem camper

My desire to work with children coping with cancer in the family comes from my own experiences as a child dealing with similar, if not the same, issues. One of the greatest lessons I have learned thus far is that life can take unexpected turns. When I was in 6th grade, my father, Suresh, was diagnosed with colon cancer. Less than 6 months later, he passed away. My brother was 9 years old. I was 11. Needless to say, my family and I were devastated; we had been so hopeful, and it had seemed for a long time that he was getting better.

The year my father passed away was the founding year of Camp Kesem. At the time, I was a confused, reserved adolescent who had been forced to mature much too quickly. That first summer at camp, I really had no idea what I was getting myself into, but from the very first bus ride to the campsite until the closing campfire songs and trip back to campus, I was immersed in all-things childhood. Because my dad had cancer, I was forced to grow up much more quickly than I should have, but being at Camp Kesem allowed me to hold on to the smallest glimmer of hope during a period of my life that was unbelievably emotionally trying. It allowed me to truly connect with other people experiencing similar difficulties, and I ultimately realized that my family and I were not alone.

I attended Camp Kesem for five consecutive years, and 2006 marked my last year at Camp Kesem as a camper. It was extraordinarily difficult to leave camp, and the days and weeks following camp were especially emotional. Leaving camp for the final time was like leaving a giant group of people who completely, unwaveringly supported and loved you, and it felt like such a huge loss. In my years at camp, I developed friendships with not only the campers, but the counselors as well. Camp Kesem had become the ultimate support group, and there was nothing else like it at the time, nor is there anything that comes close even today.

At a reunion that Fall, I started talking to my old counselors about possibly becoming a counselor myself once I graduated from high school. One of my counselors mentioned starting up a Camp Kesem on my own if I didn?t end up attending the same university. It seemed daunting, but I was ready to put in the effort, since I knew firsthand the result of such a beautiful organization. The following year, after applying to colleges, I was talking to that same counselor again and she mentioned a new chapter of Camp Kesem having recently started at a university I was considering attending. I literally jumped at the chance to help in any way I could.

The magic of Camp Kesem grew to mean different things to me as a college volunteer. Working in a small group of dedicated students to create a carefree week of fun for other kids coping with their parents? battles with cancer, I developed skills that I will continue to call upon in countless aspects of my life. I created close friendships with people who shared my passion to make a difference in the lives of others. One of these friends shared the story of Camp Kesem with her cousin, whose college campus is now in the voting round of LIVESTRONG?s Community Impact Project. It is my hope that with the support of her community and organizations like Camp Kesem and LIVESTRONG, that she will be granted the opportunity to help families coping with cancer and, in the process, derive support and strength from the cause and its people, just as I have been able to.

Now, after devoting the entirety of my four years to Camp Kesem as a college student, I am looking forward to contributing in new ways as an alumnus. Every semester, the efforts of hundreds of college students are harnessed and channeled into one week of summer fun, and it has been exciting to see that spread to other campuses and other parts of the country over the years. Camp Kesem serves a population of children and families whose needs go unnoticed and are still underserved; as an organization, it has an incredible twofold mission that gives back to both the students who make camp happen, as well as the families, who are gifted a week of magic. As a counselor, I have been given the opportunity to allow even one other child the same chance I had to just be a kid again, and it is an honor, to say the least.

My father?s passing has had repercussions that my family and I are still experiencing today and although we are still not yet healed, we are in a much better place than we ever might have been had we not been contacted by the amazing counselors at the Camp Kesem. Dealing with my father?s sudden death was and is one of the most difficult things I have ever dealt with, but it makes it easier to cope with knowing that there are people out there who were so selfless and so willing to invest their time, energy, and emotional brainpower into letting me be a kid again, even if only for a week.

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