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In 2000, a group of Stanford University students founded and developed Camp Kesem.   The group chose the word Kesem, which means “magic” in Hebrew, because its goal was to bring “magic” to families coping with cancer. Since its inception, Camp Kesem has been open to student leaders and campers of any religion, race or ethnicity.

Thanks to the hard work of many student leaders, Camp Kesem at Stanford hosted 37 campers at its first one-week summer camp in 2001.  Word quickly spread and the Stanford student leaders encouraged their friends at colleges across the country to replicate Camp Kesem in their communities. Based on the success of the Camp Kesem project at Stanford, Iris Rave also founded Camp Kesem National in August 2002 to help college students from coast to coast start similar programs.

An Inspiring and Empowering Experience

Each year since its founding, Camp Kesem has improved upon its model, finding new tools for inspiring and empowering students so they can  become better leaders who run even richer and more fruitful Camp Kesem programs.  Between 2001 and 2012, Camp Kesem grew from a single campus hosting 37 campers to a national movement serving over 2,000 campers at 37 campuses across the nation. Camp Kesem will serve over 2,000 campers and their families this summer!

History of Camp Kesem Michigan State University

Camp Kesem MSU was started at Michigan State University in 2006 and held its first camp in 2007.  Since then, membership and attendance in both campers and volunteers has increased drastically, as Camp Kesem continues to become a more familiar name in our communities.  August of 2008 marked the second year of camp and the first year in partnership with the University of Michigan, when Camp Kesem MSU became Camp Kesem Michigan, in an effort to maximize the impact of the group in the entire state.

Membership, visibility, and funds raised continued to grow, and in 2011, Michigan State University and the University of Michigan coordinated separate camps, located on the east and west side of the state.  Both schools are now staffing and running their own camps, and this provides the opportunity for even more kids to benefit from Camp Kesem!

The Need

Camp Kesem is a student-run summer camp for children who have, or have had a parent with cancer.  It provides an opportunity for campers to build self-esteem and gain support from peers facing similar challenges. Children who have or had a parent with cancer are neither physically ill, nor visibly distinct from other children.  As a result, their situation at home is often unknown to peers and teachers, and their emotional needs often go unnoticed. In addition, it is challenging for these children to find peers with whom they can relate, and they are often left feeling completely alone when coping with the fear, anger, guilt, and sadness associated with having a parent who has cancer or has died from cancer.  Camp Kesem gives these children a place to be where they no longer feel alone—every child at Camp Kesem can understand what their fellow campers are going through.  Many children at Camp Kesem develop friendships with peers to whom they can truly relate for the first time in their lives. At Camp Kesem, children are empowered with the tools to express their emotions through camp activities such as arts and crafts, drama, and cabin chat. These tools, and the friendships gained provide support for these children well beyond the week of camp.

“Kids with parents who are cancer patients have their lives turned upside down. The family structure and routine are disrupted by the demands of the illness and treatment. Camp Kesem will provide these children with a safe place to be kids again and have fun, a network of other kids in the same boat with whom to share thoughts and feelings, and a community of adults to provide needed attention and to boost their self esteem. Attending camp will lessen their feelings of isolation and vulnerability, and allow them to process their anger, guilt and fear. The very special friendships begun at camp will last well beyond the week, providing needed peer support and encouragement.”

— Dr. Michael Amylon, Pediatric Oncologist, Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital & member of Camp Kesem National Advisory Committee