On any given morning, in the sea of campus organizations touting flyers in the Arbor or across from the Student Resource Building, volunteers for University of California, Santa Barbara’s Camp Kesem chapter are a frequent fixture of the bustling landscape.
As a national nonprofit organization spearheaded by college students nationwide, Camp Kesem chapters recruit, fundraise and prepare all year to host a one-week summer camp — free of charge — for children with parents suffering from cancer.
This particular Camp Kesem chapter, founded by fourth-year biology major Grace Khoury, is in the final stages of planning this year’s camp at Forest Home, a popular retreat center in Ojai. According to third-year biology major and Marketing Coordinator Sarah Moloo, all 24 counselors at the event will be UCSB students.
“The years we spend growing up are some of the most crucial and impacting years of our lives, and cancer has a tendency to bring a lot of negativity and sadness to the lives of families affected,” said fourth-year biochemistry major and UCSB chapter Co-Director Nickie Tolouee. “We don’t have the power to cure, but we do have the ability to help families heal as a whole by creating a lifelong community where they will feel safe and loved.”
Fundraising efforts for the year have been in full swing. With a year of Krispy Kreme donut sales, henna tattoos and Krazy Kesem week last fall quarter, members have upped the ante and are expecting to offer 40 spots for kids this year, 18 more kids than last year. Make the Magic auction and dinner, held at the Mosher Alumni House in April, gave members of the community the opportunity to hear the firsthand experiences of camp alumni, parents and counselors.
Camp Kesem’s latest fundraising event drew a crowd of over 60 people as participants enjoyed a leisurely early morning 5K on Saturday, May 8. The “5K for CK” event, co-hosted by the Zeta Beta Tau Fraternity chapter at UCSB, raised over $1,000.
Second-year global studies major Kaylee Peterson, a future Camp Kesem counselor, was especially enthusiastic about the event turnout and the opportunities Camp Kesem offers kids.
“Camp Kesem has an incredible purpose,” said Peterson, “The camp is all about the kids, and it provides this incredible opportunity for kids to be kids. I have a lot of people in my family who have had cancer, and it’s really great that we’re able to target a group of kids who haven’t had the opportunity to enjoy their childhood.”
Though not a member of Camp Kesem himself, first-year English major Steven Castro, whose 5K time of 13:04 landed him a first place prize, shared similar sentiments as his inspiration for the race that morning.
“It feels great to win, but I normally do these 5K’s for the reason behind it,” said Castro. “My friend’s a part of Camp Kesem, so she was telling me about it and it sounded like such a great cause. It’s great knowing that I ran today to better myself and hopefully better the lives of someone else.”
According to Peterson, the future counselors are currently in training to ensure that the environment for kids is “safe and secure,” and one where they no longer have to hide the complicated emotions that they confront daily.
The goal, first and foremost, is to have fun.
“I think the theme for this year’s camp is Disney,” said Peterson, “and I’m especially looking forward to the Human Sundae activity we have planned, where kids get to pour chocolate sauce and cherries and sprinkles on the counselors. I think the kids are gonna have a great time.”