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Camp Kesem counselors covered in paint

Camp Kesem counselors covered in paint

SCU Students Make Home Away From Home For Unique Population

Camp Kesem at SCU serves children of cancer patients

Camp Kesem at SCU serves children of cancer patients

Camp Kesem counselors with facepaint

By Michaela Pernetti ‘19

“Sometimes life gets a little messy, but together, it can still be fun,” says Inkling, a six-year-old camper at SCU’s branch of Camp Kesem. The camp is part of a nationwide nonprofit driven by college students serving an often-overlooked population: children affected by a parent’s cancer. Through a variety of kid-friendly activities like an afternoon-long paint battle called Messy Wars, Camp Kesem seeks to make a difference for kids facing enormous challenges. SCU co-director Leviosa ‘19 (English & Political Science) says the camp environment helps the kids thrive. “A lot of these kids have to take on extra responsibilities at home, but watching them shed their mature shells and rediscover their childhood keeps me coming back year after year.”

Like Inkling and Leviosa, all campers select a “camp name” for themselves at the start of the week. That little practice, Leviosa notes, pushes the participants to find their true selves. As nine-year-old camper Unikitty puts it, Camp Kesem “make our faces not sad.”

Camp Kesem at Santa Clara University is one of the university’s nearly 170 registered student organizations and one of the country’s 100+ chapters founded since its inception at Stanford University in 2000. A volunteer coordinator team of a dozen SCU students works year-round to fundraise, recruit campers and professional staff, plan camp, and train counselors. The students come from numerous academic programs, including Biochemistry, Political Science, Philosophy, Psychology, and Studio Art.

The camp aims to improve communication skills, support network, and self-esteem. 89% of the participants return to participate the next year, in part due to the empathy of its counselors, 80% of whom have also been impacted by cancer. Currently serving more than 7,000 children nationally, the organization hopes to bring joy and comfort to at least 10,000 campers by 2019.

Established in 2013, the chapter hosted its first camp in the summer of 2014, serving just 24 campers, but has grown exponentially since, raising over $70,000 and serving 64 campers ages 6-18 this past year. Beyond the week-long camp, counselors and participants alike extend their relationships with one another through quarterly reunions at Friends + Family Days held on SCU’s campus. These “inextricable bonds,” former coordinator and counselor Tadpole ‘18 (Biology, Spanish, and Public Health) remarks, are what make Camp Kesem truly “magical.”


Student Story, social justice, CAS News