Sounds of laughter fill the air as the children run around the campsite. While this might seem like a typical summer event, these children carry pain inside.
Just past the Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City is a campsite called Camp Kesem. The camp is a national organization that organizes weeklong camps for children whose parents have been diagnosed with cancer. The camp provides an outlet for children to deal with the situation and spend time with others who can relate to them. While the camp requires about $30,000 each year to run, the organization provides the camp for free.
In a press release, a camper was quoted saying how the camp helps them.
“I like Camp Kesem because I don’t have to explain to anyone why my Mom doesn’t have hair,” the camper said.
Brian Hansen is co-chair of the BYU chapter. A senior from Valencia, Calif., majoring in exercise science, he first got interested in the program when his roommate participated and told him how much the camp impacted kids’ lives.
“Sometimes the family members get overlooked, especially the children,” Hansen said. The camp helps bring them out of their shells. For a lot of the kids, they’re the only one at their school dealing with this, so attending the camp gives them the confidence to deal with it.”
The camp has a different theme each day of the week, and tailors activities according to the day, whether it’s Harry Potter or Olympics day.
Hansen said the camp is the highlight of his summer. Aside from playing with the kids, the campers have a cabin chat each night, where they talk about their heroes, their dreams, their fears. Hansen said it is great seeing how much the kids care for their families, and how much good they want to do in the world.
“One kid said his biggest fear was to have another family member die from cancer and not be able to do anything about it. He is the oldest kid in his family, and this camp helped him to be a leader,” Hansen said. “Because his dad had passed away, he helped his mom with all the kids in the family. When he came back the next year, he was able to help the other kids.”
Hansen said the main purpose of the camp is to give a bit of childhood back to the kids.
“We want go give them a week where they can be kids again and don’t have to deal with the pressure of cancer,” he said.
Jake Hadley, a sophomore majoring in public health, from Alpine, heads up the student support committee. Hadley helped plan camp his freshman year, and is excited to do it again just off his mission.
Kesem means “magic” in Hebrew. Hadley said the camp started at Stanford, and the people who started it were Jewish, which explained the camp’s name.
Brian Brown, a junior majoring in information systems, from Apple Valley, Calif., has worked with the camp for the past two years. Brown said participating in the camp is an uplifting experience, helping them deal with what they are going through.
“They’re learning to deal with an experience that’s life or death, but they come to camp and realize that there’s still life,” he said.
Brown encouraged people to participate in the camp.
“It only takes seven days to change a life, so come and volunteer and participate and play,” Brown said.
The camp is for one week every summer in mid-August. This year, the camp will be held from Aug. 13-18.
Members of the public can learn more about the camp or contribute online at www.campkesem.org/byu.
An informational meeting will be held Thursday, March 1, at 7 p.m. in 4824 of the Harold B. Lee Library.