Camp Kesem: Helping Kids Whose Parents Have Cancer

June 06, 2018

Sharon Lin, 19, is a freshman at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a research assistant for the MIT Media Lab’s Camera Culture Group. She has worked as an advisor for Facebook InspirED and the Harvard Making Caring Common initiatives and currently works as a hackathon coach for Major League Hacking. She is also the Hackathon Chair for the MIT Bitcoin Club and serves on the Undergraduate Association Community Service Committee. She is interested in research into social and emotional learning and is currently working as an editorial assistant for an MIT publication on integrated educational strategies.

Having a parent with cancer can be a difficult thing for any child to face. As former Camp Kesem counselor Nick Schwartz said in his Ted Talk, it often forces children to grow up far faster than they should, whether that means watching over their parents after they return from chemotherapy, having to help bring food to the table, or handling hospital visits.

Founded at Stanford University in 2000, Camp Kesem operates a free one-week summer camp for children ages 6 to 18  impacted by a parent’s cancer. It has since expanded to over 100 chapters in 40 states across the country, impacting over five million children. In just 2017 alone, Camp Kesem served 7,300 children. Its continuation is entirely driven by passionate college student leaders who support the children through and beyond their parent’s cancer.

For many children attending Camp Kesem, the experience is life-changing. It provides them with a community of children with similar experiences, a safe environment to simply be themselves and rediscover their childhood, and caring counselors to help them through hardships and difficulties they may encounter.

Counselors and campers receive nicknames within the Camp Kesem community, and this allows them to differentiate their lives within the community from that of the outside world. At Camp Kesem, campers are allowed to be silly and strong, to learn who they truly are, and discover a second family to help support and care for them.

There are over 4,000 college student leaders volunteering at the camp. These student leaders learn teamwork, initiative, accountability, professional relationship building, communication, and other important skills during training. Most importantly, they learn to be a role model for younger children and help these children grow up to become their own leaders.

The advisory board and directors of Camp Kesem come from universities all across the country. Their backgrounds range from psychology and music, to computer science and physics. What brings students together in this project is their passion for leadership and creating change in the lives of the children they serve.

Camp Kesem is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for children in families affected by cancer to rediscover themselves and live a normal life among friends. It’s not just a summer camp, it’s a home away from home.

To learn more about Camp Kesem or to join the organization, visit And don’t forget to follow the camp on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram!