Camp Kesem offers relief to the children of cancer patients

Camp Kesem, a nation-wide camp program is preparing for its first summer at MU.

Throughout the past 10 years, college students across the country have run week-long summer camps through Camp Kesem for children of cancer patients.

Camp Kesem has taken place annually in 14 states and this year will expand to include nine more, including Missouri. The camp is looking to spread across the country and affect more cities, but the MU-based camp will be the only one in Missouri.

According to the camp’s website, Camp Kesem is a sleep-away camp that “has provided plenty of laughs and lots of emotional but non-therapeutic support.” The camp will take place at MU for the first time in summer 2012.

“What I’m most looking forward to is building those relationships with the kids who have been affected by cancer and getting to see what an amazing experience the camp will be for them,” said Meg Gullen, junior and one of the MU fundraising coordinators. “Getting to witness their transformation, witness their healing and witness them being able to bond with other kids is what I’m excited for.”

Gullen applied to Camp Kesem during the summer on a whim and was accepted.

“Now I’m completely obsessed with it,” Gullen said.

The purpose of the camp is to provide children whose parents have or have had cancer with an opportunity to bond with other kids who are going through their same situation by enjoying a week full of fun and outdoor activities.

“The whole main goal of the camp is to just have fun,” said Adam Ryan, co-president of MU's chapter of Camp Kesem. “Kind of the whole let kids be kids. Kind of just to pull themselves away from real life a little bit.”

The camp offers the opportunity to reflect and talk about their lives with other kids who understand.

“At night we kind of have a reflective period called ‘cabin chat,’” Ryan said. “We open up a discussion for all of the kids in the cabin and if they want to talk about it, they can talk about what they’re going through and understand that there are other kids going through the same thing that they are.”

Ryan, who first got involved last winter by emailing the director looking for a summer job, was fundamental in bringing Camp Kesem to MU, he said.

“I said, ‘You know, if there are any opportunities in the future just let me know,’” Ryan said. “She emailed me about January 12 of last year and said ‘Would you be interested in starting a camp at Mizzou?’ and I said yes, and then from that point forward we just got the ball rolling. We won a grant in May and June from Livestrong for 10,000 dollars, and we became an official org (at MU) last month.”

Because Camp Kesem is new, student organizers have had options as far as fundraising, according to Co-President and senior Katie Ronecker.

“What I’m most excited about, outside the actual camp, is because this is the organization’s first year at Mizzou, we have a lot to work with,” Ronecker said. “We don’t have any precedence in what we have or haven’t done, so really we have a lot of free reign and we can do really whatever kind of fundraisers we want, which is awesome."

In order to host the camp during the summer, the organization must raise $30,000. Fundraisers include selling T-shirts, canning outside of Columbia bars and future fundraising at Buffalo Wild Wings. They also hosted a fundraiser at the Columbia club 10 Below to raise awareness among MU students.

“Our event is at 10 Below and it is open to people 18 and up,” Gullen said. “There is a costume contest and Red Bull will be there doing some giveaways and basically the cover fee will go toward Camp Kesem and at the end of the night the proceeds from any additional (purchases) will go toward Camp Kesem as well.”

The fundraising held throughout the year is all in preparation for the one-week summer camp open to any child within a three-hour range of Columbia who has or has had a parent with cancer. As a first year program at MU, the camp will accept 40 children on a first-come, first-serve basis.

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