Camp Kesem empowers campers, counselors

Senior Brielle Buckler was 17 years old when her father was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer.

“It was so rare that Google turned up no results,” she said.

Buckler remembers how Camp Kesem helped her cope with her father’s condition at a time when she didn’t know who to turn to or where to find someone who would understand.

“It’s a whole different lifestyle when you have a sick parent,” Buckler said. “They’re supposed to be the strong ones, but when you have to step up at a young age and take care of yourself and possibly your siblings because your parent physically can’t get up because of chemo, you feel so alone and helpless. At Camp Kesem, we don’t talk about cancer. Instead, we play.”

Every year, more than 40 universities will send 50 children to Camp Kesem free of charge. The camp is a co-ed, secular, weeklong summer camp for children ages 6-16 whose parents have or had cancer.

According to senior April Brown, co-fundraising chair for Camp Kesem Miami, the e-board is responsible for raising money to fund “a week of spirit for these children.”

“We submit proposals, letters, grants, street collections, special events, and we sell food in the breezeway,” she said. “We pay for transportation, food, housing, games and crafts.”

The camp is located at Camp Dorothy Thomas in Riverview just outside of Tampa and will be taking place from Aug. 11 to 17. Kesem counselors organize each day with a theme and prepare activities that distract the kids from their reality, according to Brown.

“We color and run around and have swimming races and water balloon fights,” Buckler said. “We have messy Olympics and have campfires. The only worry our campers have is how much time before the next fun activity. They’re too busy to be sad, and they honestly get to be kids for a week after a year of being a child with a sick parent.”

Although the camp serves a specific group of children, counselors do not need to have a direct connection to cancer. Kesem instead looks for counselors that have a variety of talents and skills.

“We need lifeguards and sport coordinators, creative thinkers and professional kickball players,” Buckler said. “Camp is all about fun, and counselors have just as much as campers do. I love Camp Kesem. It’s my favorite week of the whole year, and I will continue even after graduation.”

Brown’s passion for Kesem is what keeps her excited and ready to return each summer, including after college. She has seen the impact her work has first hand.

“With Camp Kesem you immediately see the change you are making in the lives of these kids,” she said. “They grow to love you and their Camp Kesem family and, when you experience that, you try everything you can to make sure that camp happens next year.”

Senior Julie Bowman, who has worked with the camp as a counselor previously, expressed similar sentiments.

“Camp Kesem is unlike anything you’ll ever experience,” she said. “These kids are incredible. They’re strong and kind and incredibly mature. They look forward to this week with more excitement than anything in the world, and you see the difference it makes in their lives. My mother had cancer when I was just ten, and it would have been great to have something like Camp Kesem around for support.”

$25 can fund an entire Arts & Crafts activity. $100 can fund “Messy Day,” or paint fun day. $250 funds one meal for 40 campers. $500 funds one child’s week at Camp Kesem Miami.

There is no deadline for donations. Checks are accepted, and can be made out to Camp Kesem Miami and can be dropped off at the Butler Center in UC 240.