Group of Kids and counselor at Camp Kesem

Clubs Up Close: Helping Kids Overcome with Camp Kesem

Camp Kesem is a week-long summer camp for children whose parents have gone through cancer or are currently battling cancer. This organization was founded in 2000 at Stanford University. Today Camp Kesem has 116 chapters across the US.

I was lucky enough to speak with Carlos “Smiley” Rodriguez, Smiley being his nickname at Camp Kesem. You might have seen him on Madison Social’s twitter when they made a t-shirt with his face on it. He made a funny face that was projected on the jumbo screen at a basketball game that became a meme. He then used the profits from the shirts towards this organization. Smiley is on the Make the Magic Committee that plans and hosts Make the Magic, which is a gala that fundraises to send kids to the summer camp.

Camp Kesem strives to create an environment where kids can be themselves around other kids who are going through the same thing as them. It is hard for anyone to keep their hurt and struggle inside, but it is even harder for children who haven’t been able to identify or understand their emotions. Camp Kesem serves to bring these kids into an environment that is supportive and compassionate, where they can talk about how they really feel. Carlos explained the meaning behind the name, saying, “Kesem is an abstract word that means literally anything to anybody. To some people it means home, to some people it means friendship, and to some people it means joy.” Group picture from camp Kesem Shannon Fries Photography

Her Campus (HC): What lessons have you gotten from this experience?

Carlos Rodriguez (CR): The rewarding part of this is seeing those kids be themselves for the first time… in months or even years. They experience true joy, and I think that seeing someone else be vulnerable enough to share those experiences with you is rewarding. They are able to hurt and heal from those emotional scars and understand that their feelings are valid and… meant to be felt. But they don’t have to [feel] alone. I think that’s the most rewarding part: seeing that you’re helping another person achieve their potential and… feel like themselves for the first time in a while.

HC: How has this experience impacted how you see the world now?

CR: That population is very marginalized… [and] underrepresented.  You don’t think about the people who grow up this way, but if you ask your friends, they’ll say, “Yeah my parent had cancer,” or “I know someone that’s had cancer.” Often times, no one checks in on them and asks “Are you genuinely okay?” or “What can we do to help you out?” Usually, their focus is shifted, and those kids don’t get an opportunity to talk about their feelings and express those emotions with anybody. So, I think that [asking] “Hey, how are you genuinely feeling today?” is really important. Working on that empathy in between different people and connecting with one another really is a strong takeaway. Yeah, we’re college kids [working] with campers, but they’re still people at the end of the day, and people-to-people connections are the strongest in the world.

Some of their upcoming events are the First Annual Camp Kesem FSU Golf tournament on April 19 and the Camp Kesem 5k on April 25.

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