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Camp Kesem CEO Jane Saccaro Reflects on #GivingTuesday with Huffington Post

Jane “Pocket” Saccaro joined Camp Kesem as the Chief Executive Office in December 2010. Jane earned both a M.S. in Engineering-Economic Systems and a B.A. in Economics and Psychology from Stanford University. 

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Before taking on the role of Camp Kesem’s Chief Executive Officer, I spent 15 years working for corporations. And while I loved my work, I felt compelled to find a role with a larger social mission and impact that would truly make a difference. During my search, I learned about Camp Kesem, a unique organization that not only served an often-overlooked population — children affected by a parent’s cancer — but empowered college students to make a difference. As a mother, I was drawn to the mission. And as someone who has always valued leadership opportunities for young adults, I loved the method of how Camp Kesem achieved such great impact. I was hooked.

Seven weeks after I became Camp Kesem’s new CEO, my younger sister Susan was diagnosed with stage-four colon cancer. She was just 35 years old, and her three young children — Teddy, then three, and 10-month-old twins Benji and Caroline — suddenly became Camp Kesem kids, and our organization’s mission really hit home. As I watched Susan fight her battle with this brutal disease, I gained an appreciation of why Camp Kesem’s work was so important. As a parent, all you want to do is protect, love and be there for your kids. And when you cannot do that, it is beyond powerless. As hard as Susan fought to be there for her kids, she did not win this battle and died just 11 weeks after her diagnosis. I still struggle with losing my best friend and confidante every day. So I do the only thing I know how to do. I honor Susan’s legacy by doing everything I can to bring support, comfort and love not only to her three children, but to the three million children who have or have had a parent with cancer.

And that is why today I feel so incredibly proud of this model we champion. Our incredible student leaders — our Big Kids — truly make a difference and build invaluable leadership skills by developing and managing every aspect of their Camp Kesem chapter. This year, for #GivingTuesday, we asked our student volunteers to take their social responsibility one step further. We asked them to encourage their fellow students, peers, faculty and members of their campus communities to also GIVE BACK by taking a photo in one of the 45 #BigKidsGive #GivingTuesday photo booths our student leaders set up on their campuses nationwide and then sharing that photo via Instagram, Twitter and Facebook to spread that message even further. And it was a tremendous success!

Camp Kesem’s Big Kids took over Instagram, Facebook and Twitter with over 1,300 photos using the #BigKidsGive and #GivingTuesday hashtags. With the help of our student volunteers, celebrity supporters, and community leaders, our #GivingTuesday campaign helped raised approximately $10,000 in donations to send more kids to camp this summer. We are incredibly proud and applaud all of the young leaders in the world that have helped make #GivingTuesday a success not only for our organization, but for the thousands of others who are working towards improving the world we live in.

So much of the messaging we see at this time of year is about getting — gifts, presents, discounts and all manner of things. Yet in participating in Camp Kesem’s #BigKidsGive #GivingTuesday campaign, as well as #GivingTuesday’s #Unselfie campaign, college students all over the country have demonstrated the importance of GIVING BACK and thinking beyond ourselves. Furthermore, they have demonstrated and continue to demonstrate the true power of social media to bring attention to important causes and inspire collaborative action.

Today, there are over three million children affected by a parent’s cancer. Our goal is to continue to expand our programs until we can serve every one of those kids. This year, Camp Kesem expanded to 54 college chapters across the country, increasing the number of communities we serve by over 32 percent. With the help of nearly 1,500 college student volunteers, we served more than 2,800 children. And while our student leaders are giving back, they are developing real-world skills. 89 percent of Kesem students intend to continue philanthropic work after college. Our Big Kids embody what Camp Kesem is all about. Over 75 percent of the student leaders involved with Camp Kesem had cancer impact someone in their family, and by sharing their personal experiences, they are able to help kids like them in a profoundly unique way.

Camp Kesem was honored to be a #GivingTuesday partner this year and will continue being one for many years to come.

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