Camp Kesem: Making an Impact on Youth by Providing a Support Network

weekly update

for March 17, 2021

​Camp Kesem is a student-run, national non-profit organization that provides a free week-long summer camp for children who have a parent(s) affected by cancer in addition to year-round support. The effects of Kesem are much greater than the incredible week that camp is offered; Kesem fosters lifelong friendships, serves as a year-round support network for our campers, and gives the kids an opportunity to connect with others going through similar situations. Our chapter at Johns Hopkins University serves campers and their families in the DC/Maryland/Virginia area. This year, we are working to send 55 campers to our 2021 virtual camp! Our campers are embodiments of compassion, optimism, and persistence, and our chapter is incredibly humbled to serve such incredible future leaders. 

One of the campers’ favorite activities is called messy games. Messy games are just what they sound like; campers and counselors from all age groups come together on the field and are given shaving cream, paint, water balloons, cotton balls, sparkles, and wet sponges. The campers then rotate through stations where they get each other and their counselors super messy! By the end of the activity, everyone is covered in paint and shaving cream and laughing at how silly their friends look. When we transitioned to a virtual setting last summer, messy games had to stay. Camp counselors sent out “messy game kits” to campers with Kodak film canisters with colored shaving cream and glue. Campers opened the canisters to feel the mystery substance and guess what it is. Then, several counselors volunteered to make “counselor sundaes” during which campers gave counselors directions in making themselves messy. Whether in-person or virtual, you can’t take the fun out of messy games!

One of the most empowering moments of camp, ironically, occurs just after our Empowerment Ceremony (the time during camp where counselors actively open the floor for campers to talk about their personal experiences with cancer, as well as what Kesem means to them.) In the following activity, Tap Circle, everyone sits in a circle with their eyes closed (but of course, some campers cannot resist the urge to peek), and we call each unit one by one. We squirt paint in the campers’ hand — green, red, orange, and purple — and begin naming affirmations, such as “Tap someone who made you smile today” or “Tap someone that is important to you.” The campers then walk around the circle, tapping people that the affirmation makes them think of. Some campers smear paint all across the foreheads of their fellow campers, while others are more conservative with their tap, wanting to make sure that they will have enough paint for everyone they intend to touch.

At the end of the activity, everyone is covered in paint, giving the campers a visual representation of how much they mean to others. The campers wear the paint with great pride back to the cabins– their heads up, backs straight, and swinging their paint-covered arms with a little more gusto than usual. Getting the campers to shower that night is quite the task, as they all want to keep the paint on for as long as possible.  

One of our campers (part of the youngest unit) is a seven-year-old who loves to breakdance, constantly asks “But why?”, has the widest smile, the shortest attention span, and the biggest heart. One year, while waiting outside to enter the cafeteria she asked: “You can’t touch or see it, but it’s always there. What is it?”. People guessed invisible cloak, ghosts, and air, all of which were shot down. Finally, when it was clear that we were all stumped, she started giggling, jumping, and yelled, “Hope!” It is an understatement to say that we were all shocked by the depth and maturity of her answer. These campers’ strength and resilience despite the difficult situations their families face at home is truly inspiring.

Make the Magic is our largest gala fundraising event of the year where we invite camper families and community supporters to help us reach our chapter’s goal of $55,000. Two years ago, during our last in-person event, we raised $13,000 and hosted 60 guests at the Lord Baltimore Hotel. Due to COVID-19, this year, we are planning a virtual event on the evening of April 16th that will be filled with more camper stories and FUN(draising) activities.

We would love for you to consider attending our event or making a donation!


Legacy Collective is a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Our tax identification number is 87-1730864. You can find us on Guidestar here

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