Everyone has a moment in their life when their whole perspective of the world changes. Their plans, their dreams, their everyday life, and even the people they surround themselves with begin to change. A little over a year ago, I had my moment.
During my sophomore year of college, I followed college protocol by getting involved with some type of philanthropy on campus in order to build my resume and impress future employers. I happened upon a cause that was convenient for my schedule and signed up for a week long summer camp called Camp Kesem. Little did I know that signing up with this random camp would change my life forever.
Its mission is to support six to sixteen-year-olds through and beyond their parent’s cancer and family hardships. This camp gives these kids a chance to escape the fears and worries that comes along with their parent’s illness.
Most importantly, it also gives them an opportunity to form a community with kids that understand what they are going through.
My first day as a counselor transported me to a different world. For starters, everybody, including campers and counselors, take on camp names. My camp name is “Beluga” because of my love and great knowledge of whales. Another unique quality about the Camp Kesem world is that everybody is legitimately nice and supportive to each other.
Everyone had smiling faces, and cheered each other on throughout the games and activities that filled the long days.
Between hiking, swimming in the lake, participating in the Messy Games (everyone plays games involving paint, shaving cream, and other messy items), and other amazing activities, all the campers and counselors were just being kids.
This camp was a place where everybody could truly be yourself. If you wanted to talk about whales all day, then you could. If you wanted to live out your dreams of becoming an amateur cup stacker, then that was also a possibility. If you wanted to lip sync to your favorite Taylor Swift song in front of 100+, then that dream could become a reality.
During the day, the camp is involved with non-stop fun activities. Before bed, things begin to get a little deeper. Every night in the cabins, we have cabin chat dedicated to giving the campers the opportunity to share whatever they want.
Most people speak about their favorite parts of the day, others talk about how grateful they are to spend another week with their camp family, and yet others find comfort in having the chance to share their experiences with their parents’ cancer and the effects it has had on their lives.
A good number discuss their constant worries about their parent’s health. A few talk about how much they miss their mom or dad. These sincere and heartfelt cabin chats usually led to the campers expressing how much they loved Camp Kesem because they have friends who finally understand their everyday struggles.
The most impactful day at camp for me was the day we had Empowerment. Empowerment is a ceremony at all Camp Kesem chapters where all of the campers and counselors get together to share what Camp Kesem means to them.
Before this ceremony, we had empower hour in which everyone in the cabin said something nice to everyone in the cabin. Then we got in a circle and tapped the shoulders of people who had touched our lives throughout the week in different ways. Empowerment took everything to a whole new level.
Hearing campers share their experiences with their parent’s cancer brought tears to my eyes. But what impacted me more was the unconditional support and love that was shared between the campers and counselors at this point. When my campers shared their stories, I completely lost it.
He also said that everyone thinks of him as the strong sibling because he is the oldest, but he shared how his younger sister is a rock that supports him through their mother’s cancer. Another camper spent an hour talking to me about his father’s battle with cancer and how he was afraid of losing him one day because the unknowns of cancer.
This camper’s story really put my whole life into perspective, It truly showed me how much pain these kids were going through, but their struggles weren’t as really addressed because they don’t have physical symptoms of their endeavors.
These fourteen year olds had been through so much, yet they had so much more maturity than I could ever fathom having at their age.
They taught me how to truly support someone through their personal struggles. The whole camp showed me that you do not have to know someone for a long time to be able to love them and support them unconditionally. I’m grateful for Camp Kesem for a million reasons.
For giving me an amazing outlet to give back, for allowing me to meet some of the most incredible people at UGA, for showing me the beauty out of the darkest times. But mostly, for letting me meet some of the strongest, most mature, and incredible kids who have forever changed my life.
I kesem to support them through the most difficult times of their lives, to empower them beyond their parent’s cancer, to love them for their true selves, to create a second family that will always be with them, and to help spread the Camp Kesem magic that has the power to change the lives of whoever it touches.