Local chapter of Camp Kesem seeks community support

Volunteers at the Utah Valley chapter of Camp Kesem gather at an event. These volunteers help run the largest chapter of Camp Kesem in the nation. (Photo courtesy of Kiana Dipko)

The nonprofit organization Camp Kesem provides services for children of parents with cancer. The local Utah Valley chapter serves more than 100 children each year, with numbers on the rise.

The demand for more staff and funding is increasing rapidly, but they are unable to expand without community support. 

This chapter of Kesem is run by a group of student volunteers. This diverse group of young adults join together in unification to help children of cancer patients, in whatever stage of their parents’ journey they are in.

Campers participate in an activity together. The kids enjoy a variety of games and activities during the week-long summer camp. (Photo courtesy of Kiana Dipko)

“We take a bunch of kids who have similar experiences and bring them together to have fun,” Kiana Dipko, this year’s camp director, said. 

The counselors provide a supportive and fun environment and look to the kids as examples of optimism and resilience. According to Dipko, it is as healing for the counselors as it is for the campers. 

Kesem’s Utah Valley chapter is the largest in the nation, serving the most children in the area it covers. Right now, the camp helps more than 100 kids with more on the waitlist. They have plans to grow within the next few years — they are hoping to eventually achieve as many as 200 participants, a goal that will be impossible to achieve without community aid.

“Lots of these families don’t have the means to send their kids to other camps,” Bree Smedley, a counselor for the Utah Valley chapter, said.

Because of this, the kids are able to attend the week-long summer camp for free.

There are many creative ways to help at Camp Kesem — whether it be volunteering for the kitchen or medical staff, raising awareness or making donations.

“More funds equals more kids,” Smedley said.

According to Zach Rasmussen, a BYU student and camp counselor, Kesem is very unique. There are not many other opportunities like it for kids in this situation. 

“Kids are often the forgotten victims of their parent’s cancer,” Rasmussen said. 

Camp Kesem is not a camp about cancer, it is a camp about the kids themselves.

Participants pose to show off some of Kesem’s core values — hope and community. Counselors and campers alike strive to help every participant know that there is hope and that no one is alone. (Photo courtesy of Kiana Dipko)

“A lot of these kids whose parents have cancer have to step up and take care of their younger siblings and deal with the harsh reality of life,” Jonas Bonnett said, who started attending Camp Kesem just months after he lost his own father to leukemia. 

For Bonnett, attending this camp each year made him feel loved and helped him take his mind off the real world for a while. Now, as a counselor, he hopes the kids he serves will experience the same hope and relief he did as a camper. 

Elliot Hyunjune, a BYU student and Utah Valley chapter volunteer, said Kesem gives kids confidence and helps them develop a vision for their future during this critical time in their lives.

Kesem creates lifelong bonds for both campers and volunteers. Several of the current counselors met almost 10 years ago as campers. 

Stone Newbould started attending the yearly summer camp at age 10. Newbould, now a counselor, gives other kids the same opportunity for a loving and fun camp experience that he had.

“I grew up with these two kids and they’re my best friends,” Newbould said.

“I’m still best friends with them nine years later,” Bonnet said.

A large group of Camp Kesem participants gathers together. The Utah Valley chapter serves more than 100 participants each year. (Photo courtesy of Kiana Dipko)

While the week-long camp is the pinnacle event, the Utah Valley chapter also hosts year-round services and even sends birthday cards to campers to maintain connections.

The group is currently preparing for this year’s summer camp taking place July 11-15 and is seeking community support to get as many kids to camp as possible. Community members wanting to get involved can register a child, donate or apply for a volunteer position at any time. 

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