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Counselor Blogs – Squirrel

This is the first entry of our counselor blog series in which our counselors take time to share his or her unique experiences with Camp Kesem. Today’s entry is by Caitlin “Squirrel” Laneri, who served as a camp counselor for her second summer this year and is currently serving on our executive board as a student support coordinator. 

“Kesem” is the Hebrew word for magic; the magic that takes place for one week during the summer at Camp Kesem.  Camp Kesem is a free weeklong summer camp for children whose parents have or have had cancer. I have been fortunate enough to serve as a counselor for Camp Kesem Texas A&M for the past two summers.

In many aspects, it’s a typical camp week. There are arts and crafts, sports, drama, outdoor adventures, lake time, and even a dance at the end of the week. But Camp Kesem is also very unique. Our nightly cabin chats and our Empowerment program are the heart of our Kesem magic.

Cabin chat takes place each night within each cabin at camp. During cabin chat, the camper and counselors simply talk to each other. The first cabin chat involves small talk topics like what we did this summer, what we do at school, and other conversations to get to know each other better. However, as the week goes on and the campers and counselors continue to bond, the cabin chats turn more serious and the strength of these young campers shines.

This is when the campers open up and share why they are at Camp Kesem. They support and love each other, knowing that they have similar experiences with cancer that most children their age do not even begin to understand. Some campers have a parent in remission, others have a parent currently undergoing chemotherapy, and others have lost a parent to cancer. But it doesn’t matter what their individual situations are, they still understand that cancer has unfortunately come into their lives and they are all fighting against it together.

Towards the end of camp, we have an Empowerment program where the entire camp comes together, and campers and counselors talk about their experiences at camp. This night is THE Kesem magic. The kids open up and share things that they would never share with their friends at school. They let out all their fear, all their anger, all their sadness and they all heal together. As a counselor, I cannot understand what they are going through. It angers me knowing that I can not take their pain away, but I know that I can be their for them and simply listen to everything they’ve been holding in.

This one week at Camp Kesem puts everything into perspective for me, reminding me what is truly important in life. I was absolutely blown away by the courage of every camper and their constant optimism about life despite the rough times they had faced. The Camp Kesem community is amazing and I am truly blessed to be a part of the magic.