‘Kesem,’ the Hebrew word for “magic,” is what the Camp Kesem volunteers at the University of Illinois work to make for kids in Illinois who have been affected by their parents’ cancer. Since 2007, when the U of I Camp Kesem chapter began, student volunteers have created a fun escape for children in central and western Illinois dealing with their parents’ cancer, in the form of a week-long summer camp.
Executive board leaders Shannon Bonds and Aaron Graves predict they will have around 120 campers attend Camp Kesem in summer 2016, a large jump from the 15 campers who attended the first summer in 2007. The camp’s goal is to embrace the large and overlooked population of children—over three million in the United States—dealing with their parents’ cancer and help them through any academic, social, emotional, or developmental problems they might have as a result. Kids between the ages of six and 16 can attend camp for the week at Fort Benson Camp in Mount Carol, Illinois. Camp Kesem is led by college students and is free to all campers. The week includes activities like sports, arts and crafts, and drama, as well as “cabin chats” which give children the opportunity to share their experiences.
“It’s a bit different from other camps because we really want the kids to have the ‘it’s all about me’ moments, because a lot of them deal with so much. When their families go through so much stress, it can take a lot away from the kids being in the spotlight. We want to give that to them,” says Bonds.
Bonds and Graves expect that they will have a team of about 60 members who will train to become counselors for summer 2016. However, these volunteers will contribute more than just one week out of their summer for the cause. Much of the Camp Kesem impact is in providing year-round support for campers. This means that counselors in outreach positions do their best to show their support to their campers throughout the entire year. They attend their campers’ sporting events, dances, and plays and hold camp reunions in the fall.
In addition to outreach activities, counselors must help with fundraising which is extremely important to ensure all families can send their kids to camp, free of charge. Each counselor much raise $500 on their own, as well as take part in various fundraising events. The biggest fundraising event of the year is a benefit dinner called Make the Magic. This happens in February when the entire Camp Kesem U of I chapter, their family and friends gather for an evening of food, entertainment, and plenty of information and stories about Camp Kesem.
This year, the 4th annual Make the Magic Benefit Dinner is on February 20 at the Irish American Heritage Center in Chicago. The event is open to the public and the purchase of a ticket includes dinner, drinks and parking. For more information on the event and to purchase a ticket, visit the benefit page here.
To learn more about Camp Kesem at the University of Illinois and their mission, visit their Facebook page here or watch their summer 2015 video. If you would like to make a donation to the 2016 summer camp, visit their donation page at campkesem.org/illinois/donate.