Dealing with a parent who has had cancer or still does is no easy task for anyone, let alone young children. Camp Kesem, a summer camp for kids ages six through 13, tries to give kids a break from these hardships.
Camp Kesem is a completely free, college student-run overnight camp for kids whose parents currently have cancer, are cancer survivors or have passed away from the illness. The program takes kids on a one-week getaway camp during the summer, giving them a chance to be kids again.
“From what we hear kids can feel isolated from their friends and this camp gives them a sort of social network,” said Tracy Jalaba, coordinator for Camper Care committee and junior exercise biology major. “It’s good for them to meet other kids with similar situations.”
Camp Kesem began in Stanford in 2000 through Hillel, a nationwide Jewish student organization, and came to UC Davis in 2004.
Kesem means “magic” in Hebrew, and counselors help bring this magic to campers and their families each year.
The location of the UC Davis chapter camp changes, though all campers meet on campus and depart on buses to the camp location usually a couple of hours away.
“The camp is orientated toward getting to know more people who have similar situations, just hang out and be normal,” said Derek Tully, 14, a four-year camp participant.
Tully’s father had cancer in his neck and brain, though now he is in recovery. Tully’s mother found out about Camp Kesem through a flier in downtown Davis.
Tully attended the camp until the age of 13. He describes the camp as “really fun” and a normal camp, with a wide range of activities typical of most summer camps: swimming, arts and crafts, nature walks. Added elements are the “cabin chats,” a chance for kids to share with each other and the counselors before going to bed.
“I think it’s a really great service that we’re providing to the local community. We are directly serving people. … You work really hard all year and then you actually get to go to camp and see all of your hard work pay off,” said Jalaba, who will participate in her third year at Camp Kesem.
Jalaba finds her work with Camp Kesem a rewarding experience, and says she and the other camp counselors have acquired many skills through planning and fundraising for the camp.
“[The kids] are so young but because of what they have been through are so mature. It’s an interesting experience getting to know them and talk to them – kids as young as six. [I got to see] what a firm grasp they have on what is going on,” Jalaba said.
Since camp is completely free for kids, organizers work year-round to fundraise costs. UCD’s chapter hopes to bring 50 children to camp this year, up from last year’s roughly 35. The budget for a week of camp is roughly $30,000, Jalaba said.
To fundraise, organizers try to get grants, write letters and hold concert fundraisers such as the “Unmuted Fusion” concert that was held here on campus to help raise money for the camp.
On May 1, another benefit concert will be held with reggae band Iration on 336 C St., at the Alpha Epsilon Pi house, starting at 8 p.m.
“Our goal is to send more kids to camp,” said Jason Pearl, producer of this Friday’s show. Pearl would not confirm or deny if 100 percent of proceeds from ticket sales would go toward Camp Kesem.
“We want to help kids who are going through these hardships and enjoy that week of camp, we are really passionate about that,” Pearl said. “Yes, we want people to have fun at the concert, but at the end of the day, we are doing this for Camp Kesem.”
They are expecting roughly 1,000 to go to the concert, with pre-sale tickets at $10 and at-the-door prices up to $15. Tickets will be available at the Quad, at the door or at the ticketing website irationataepidavis.eventbrite.com.
Also occurring this Friday is the camper applications deadline. For more information about Camp Kesem, how to get involved or donate, go to campkesemdavis.org.
ANGELA RUGGIERO can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.