Lamorindans Can Make a Difference for Kids Coping With a Parent’s Cancer

Written by Jennifer Seelig. Posted in Family + Parenting

Lamorindans can log on to make an incredible difference in the lives of children coping with a parent’s cancer.

Camp Kesem

Have a minute to spare, Lamorinda? We all know how precious time is and there’s a lot you can accomplish in just one minute – send an e-mail, start a load of laundry or check your stock portfolio. But how about this - in the same amount of time it takes to log into your inbox, you can make an incredible difference in the lives of children coping with a parent’s cancer.

Camp Kesem is in the running to receive $1 Million in the Chase Community Giving Awards. It’s a remarkable online event with just 25 nonprofits nationwide receiving an invitation from the bank to participate. Lafayette resident and Camp Kesem Development Director Sarah Blumenfeld is thrilled to be in the running, and is even more thrilled at the prospect of winning.

“Camp Kesem makes such an empowering, life-changing impact on children’s lives,” explained Blumenfeld. “It’s exciting to think that the organization may have the chance to reach even more families with this funding.”

But, she can’t do it alone – and that’s where you come in. Simply log on to the Chase Community Giving Awards Facebook page any time between September 28 and October 5 and cast a vote for Camp Kesem.

Crucial Vote Count

Camp Kesem is competing in the Health and Wellbeing category against four other nonprofits. That means Capm Kesem has a 1 in 5 chance of automatically winning $125,000 and advancing to Round Two of the competition.

The winner of Round Two receives $1,000,000, second place receives $500,000, third place is awarded $250,000 and fourth and fifth place each get $125,000. If Camp Kesem wins in Round One, it’s automatically guaranteed a minimum of $125,000 in Round Two.

Blumenfeld estimates it will take thousands of votes to win. But, when you consider the impact Camp Kesem has on so very many families, it’s easy to understand why it’s worth your time to cast one of those votes.

Make Summer Sweeter For Kids Coping With a Parent’s Cancer

For most children, summer vacation is just that – a vacation. A break from the daily grind. The days are long and lazy and kids have few cares in the world, if any at all.

That’s hardly the case for other children – the ones whose lives have been turned upside down by a parent’s cancer diagnosis. Medical advances may be helping to improve the chances of survival for the adult cancer patients, yet their children are left with few resources to cope with such monumental news.

That’s all changing, slowly and steadily, thanks to Camp Kesem’s network of summer camps.

Bay Area Beginning

There are 2-dozen Kesem camps in 14 states. The camps welcome children as young as 6 who have a parent with cancer.

“It’s been around since 2000,” explained Blumenfeld.

Stanford student Iris Rave, who was active in the university’s Hillel organization (Foundation for Jewish Campus Life), came up with the concept. Kesem means “magic” in Hebrew.

“She had to do a community service project for Hillel,” Blumenfeld said. “Something that would engage the college students. She had a history in summer camps and decided that might be an interesting combination. She did a needs assessment and found that there were already a lot of different special needs camps but through her research she was told by different people that there were no support services for children whose parents have cancer.”

“Which,” Blumenfeld continued, “is still unfortunately very true today. There are a few things here and there across the country but nothing quite like Camp Kesem, which is a free summer camp for these kids.”

In its infancy, Rave’s Stanford-based Camp Kesem had just 37 campers.

“Literally, through grassroots word of mouth it spread from one side of the country to the other,” Blumenfeld proudly declared. “It’s just grown, amazingly, through the students and their passion and energy and commitment to making this happen.”

Rave established Camp Kesem National in 2002 to help collegiates all over the country launch local Camp Kesem programs.

“Most college students aren’t thinking beyond their own hemisphere and what affects their life let alone making a difference for a child,” reasoned Blumenfeld, “but what you’ll find is a lot of our college students also either have this natural passion to give back and help others, often they’re doing it because they might be interested in doing some kind of education or medical field, and quite often there’s a cancer story of their own to it.”

Locally, Camp Kesem programs have been established at UC Berkeley and UC Davis. Other California Camp Kesem programs are up and running at UCLA and UC San Diego.

“It’s amazing, it really is,” said Blumenfeld. “We find after ten years that a lot of our high school kids who were campers are making their college choices based on whether or not there’s a Camp Kesem there, so they can be a Camp Kesem counselor when they go to college.”

“So, to me, that says a lot about the organization and the impact that it’s had on their life. It’s made a big difference for them,” she declared.

Kids Get to Be Kids at Kesem

Cancer is a frightening word. The mere mention of the devastating – and sometimes fatal – disease is so hard.

Imagine being a child, hearing that your mom or dad has cancer.

Imagine what day-to-day life is like for that child.

Camp Kesem not only provides these children with comfort – it provides them with a sense of normalcy that often disappears when a parent falls ill.

“We don’t make camp therapy,” stressed Blumenfeld. “It’s just a chance for them to get away and be a kid and do everything that a kid’s supposed to do which is not worry and have fun.”

Most programs are 5 or 6 days long. “It’s just your fun, typical summertime overnight camp,” Blumenfeld summed it up.

“Once at camp they’re divided by age, like any other typical summer camp. We have a 2 to 1 ratio which means we have only 2 campers per counselor, which is very, very nice, particularly when you’re dealing with kids that have some special emotional needs.”

“And then we have the camps that do what’s called an empowerment ceremony,” she continued. “It’s a time where a child who has lost a parent, whether through art or music, has some remembrance of some form, acknowledging the passing of their parent.”

Most of all, the Kesem counselors are trained to follow the child’s lead. Dealing with a parent’s cancer is a different experience and range of emotions for every youngster.

“One girl shared with us that, she was 6 when her mom died, and she didn’t even realize until she went to Camp Kesem that she had carried around in her this essence that it was her fault that her mom got sick and died of cancer,” said Blumenfeld. “It was through meeting other kids through Camp Kesem that she realized it wasn’t her fault.”

“Another girl ran up to her mom and said, look! I’m not the only one with a bald mommy,” Blumenfeld recounted. “It’s about giving these kids a sense of normalcy.”

A psychotherapist remains on site during camp, but Blumenfeld stresses it’s mostly to assist counselors who may have questions or need guidance about dealing with a specific situation. The reality is that some of the campers’ parents are very sick. Some campers have been taken home early if a parent’s condition takes a sudden turn.

There is, of course, also cause for celebration.

“Sometimes parents get healthy, they’re in remission, but the kids keep coming back to camp,” Blumenfeld explained how important Kesem is.

A Parent’s Respite, Too

Camp Kesem is, technically, for the kids. But, the entire family benefits from the youngster’s week spent away.

“The parents love it,” pointed out Blumenfeld. “They get a week where they can just have a chance to be a couple, to rest.”

“One woman in remission, she went away for a night herself,” she continued. “So for the parents it’s a lovely retreat for themselves because if they’re not worried about their cancer, they’re worried about taking care of their kids. So, the benefits for everybody are pretty amazing.”

Parents also benefit from the connections they make with other Kesem parents. Parents, just like their children, need to know there are people who understand what they’re going through.

“One of the things a lot of parents tell me crosses their mind when they’re first diagnosed with cancer is how am I going to help my kids? Just to have that sense of peace, knowing their child is going to be okay without me, it’s a heavy thing to deal with,” said Blumenfeld.

The generosity of donors – some strangers, some friends and family – makes a difference, too.

“It’s free,” Blumenfeld said of Camp Kesem. “Our view is that cancer itself is such a burden financially.”

“And, a lot of people do tell us that they wouldn’t have been able to afford it otherwise.”

To learn more, volunteer, donate or apply to Camp Kesem, please visit campkesem.org or send an inquiry to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Log on to Facebook to vote for Camp Kesem in the Chase Community Giving Awards