Why I Kesem: Penny–”To Spread Joy”

Every now and then at Camp Kesem events, we get asked “Why do you Kesem?” We use this question in the CK community to ask more than just why someone shows up for an awesome week of camp every summer. “Why I Kesem” goes deeper than our not-so-secret addiction to silly camp songs and love of watching the Talent Show acts every summer. “Why I Kesem” is about the story that led us to this amazing organization, and what the counselors and campers have come to mean to us. This spring, we’re spotlighting our counselors and sharing their stories. This week, we feature Penny, a sophomore Physics-in-Medicine major who has lived across the country and in Germany with her two Air Force parents, but is most recently from O’Fallon, IL. Penny is an aspiring academic orthopedic surgeon, was a co-chair for our 2014 Make the Magic fundraiser, and (correctly) thinks that dogs are better than cats. Her favorite Disney movie is The Lion King or Mulan, depending on the day you ask her.

Camp Kesem came to me by the grace of God. On the day applications were due, I received a campus-wide email asking for people to apply to be a counselor. As a long time preschool camp counselor and lover of summer camp, I threw my name in the mix. Luckily the past counselors saw something in me, and I ended up a Kesemer.

Leading up to camp, I was really nervous since I didn’t know many of the other counselors, and I had no idea what to expect. I lost my grandmother and my friend to cancer, but I never experienced the agony of these campers, and I worried that they wouldn’t be able to identify as well with me. I didn’t want to let them down.

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That is when I channeled my grandma and my friend. Both of them had the brightest smiles and could make anyone’s day with their presence. Nothing could beat Grandma’s hugs or her laugh. Even when he was fighting cancer, my friend still brought joy to everyone around him and could make me smile wider than anyone I’ve met. I also realized that I made a commitment to help these campers have a brighter summer, and I couldn’t let them down.

I arrived back at Notre Dame to a warm, sunny August day with a disposition to match. Camp was always a joy, and this would be no different once we hit our stride. With the cheer of loved ones in mind, I entered into the best week of my summer. Those campers brought unfathomable amounts of happiness to the week despite the struggles they left behind. Just as Camp Kesem hoped, those kids were just kids again. No self-pity entered the GaGa pit. No despair hindered our exceedingly enthusiastic camp songs. No worries sidelined them from tug-of-war in Camp Olympics. Only hope and happiness entered camp, and a hundred-fold of that went home with us. I look back and laugh at the time when I was nervous for camp. Now, I sing camp songs across the quad to people and count down the days until Kesem reunions. I recruit every kind soul I know to apply for camp so that they can share in the bliss that is a week at camp. I can’t imagine college without my fellow Kesemers. I Kesem for those campers and the unending smiles that camp brings. I Kesem so that the joy of my loved ones can shine through to those who need it most. Most of all, I Kesem for all my happy camp friends whom I can’t wait to see this August. CK Love forever.

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