5 Questions... with Liz Gray, National Program Director of Camp Kesem for Children of Parents Afflicted with Cancer


Camp Kesem's goal is to one day be able to serve every child in this country that has or has had a parent with cancer.

1 — How did Camp Kesem get its start?

Iris Rave founded Camp Kesem at Stanford in 2000 while she was working at the Hillel Jewish center there. She needed to create a social action project and was inspired after working at the Hole in the Wall camp. She realized that often children who have parents with an illness go unnoticed and that Cancer was becoming so common and widespread. The first summer that Stanford had Camp Kesem, they welcomed 37 campers.

At Camp Kesem, the focus is not on cancer; the focus is on having FUN. Campers get the chance to have an exciting week and “just be kids.” Sometimes, the topic of cancer does come up during Cabin Chat--a time every night where campers and counselors in each cabin get together and chat about different questions, such as “Who is your hero and why?” and “If you can invent anything, what would it be?” Campers feel comforted because at Camp Kesem, they realize that they are not alone. Campers also get the chance to meet children who have parents at different stages of their cancer. It is very powerful for campers to see others who have lost a parent and are still OK. It lets them know that even if their parent passes away, their own life will go on.

3 - How do you get the number “1.3 million cancer cases” per year, when referring to its impact on families?This is actually an old stat. It is more like 1.4 million now. This stat is from the American Cancer Society.

4 — Please provide some stats; how many Camps nationwide? Most “successful” of those locations? Longest-running? Most counselors on deck?

In 2008, there were 20 camps serving over 850 campers. All our camps are extremely successful, with 100% volunteer college-student counselors. The 2:1 ratio of campers to counselors is a large reason for this. The longest-running camps are Stanford (8 summers), and North Carolina and Notre Dame (6 summers). During the summer of 2008, there were 5 first-year camps.

5 — How can interested parties get involved, or start a Camp of their own?

There are many ways interested parties can get involved. Parents with cancer or people who know parents with cancer can contact Camp Kesem to find a camp nearby. ALL Camp Kesem camps are offered to families free of charge, due to the financial stress cancer can bring. Anyone who is touched by the cause can donate to Camp Kesem. Students who are interested in starting a camp can contact Camp Kesem and discuss hat it takes to start up this organization at their campus. Anyone interested can either e-mail Camp Kesem at info@campkesem.org, or visit the Camp Kesem website: www.campkesem.org.

Physicians can spread the word to their patients! Camp Kesem’s goal is to one day be able to serve every child in this country that has or has had a parent with cancer.

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