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Case Western Reserve University's independent student news source

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Students lobby for well-meaning summer program

Camp Kesem aims to benefit children of cancer-fighting parents

In 2001, students of the Stanford University Jewish Hillel started a nonprofit project called Camp Kesem. The free, weeklong, student-run sleep-away camp was targeted to serve kids ages six to 16 whose parents have (or have had) cancer by providing them the opportunity to just be kids over the summer. In addition, the camp would support the children and devote the special attention they need in a fun but cancer aware environment.

The word “Kesem” translates to “magic” in Hebrew, which is what this camp provides for many kids. Children whose parents have suffered from cancer face pain and emotional distress that often goes unnoticed.

Thirty-seven campers attended the first summer session of Camp Kesem free of charge in June 2001. Due to the success, founder Iris Rave and a group of student leaders developed the project and continued to work to bring “magic” in the lives of children in need.

Since then, 38 other college campuses around the United States have adopted the project as well. This year, Case Western Reserve University’s Camp Kesem initiative has been selected to be a candidate for the LIVESTRONG Foundation Community Impact Project. This project offers $1.2 million in funding to increase cancer-support programs across the country. LIVESTRONG, itself, has spent over $80 million on supportive organizations in communities.

LIVESTRONG is planning to sponsor 10 schools to hold Camp Kesem during the summer of 2014 at their university. In order to win a spot, they created an online voting campaign that is running until Mar. 28. The university sites with the top votes will receive up to $15,000 to start programs in their community. Students are encouraged to get online and vote for CWRU at

Other universities in the competition include University of Dayton, Ohio University, University of Colorado-Boulder.
Juniors Yssra Soliman, Vashti Aguilar, Vid Yogeswaran, Brandon Vu, Fusanoske Kambara, and Jocelyn Tucker started the CWRU Camp Kesem initiative. They have been working to spread the word about Camp Kesem so that it can be brought to Cleveland. They have been approved by Camp Kesem National and have been sponsored under the guidance of George Kikano, M.D.

Since the summer of 2012, the students have been trying to bring a Camp Kasem chapter to the university. The team worked for seven months with mentor Liz Gray and the university counsel to prepare for the project.

“Although we are all rather involved on campus this summer, we realized that there was still something missing from our college experience,” said Soliman. “We wanted to do something for our community and Camp Kesem was the perfect answer. Camp Kesem is not like any other camp. It is a way for the youth to use their experience as a foundation for courage, confidence, and leadership.”

The group stated that Cleveland is at the heart of world-renowned medical care, yet there is still a large need for such a program to serve families affected by cancer. They pointed out that the university, itself, is close to the Cleveland Clinic, Seidman Cancer Center, University Hospitals, and MetroHealth Hospital. They believe that they can reach out to many families in these health centers. They also stated that CWRU has the resources as well as student interest to make this project a success.

“I first found out about Camp Kesem from a friend who was involved with his chapter at MIT. I immediately thought about how awesome it would be to work with people at CWRU to make a camp like this possible for families in Cleveland. We have the resources, the compassion, and drive here to make it possible,” said Aguilar.

The CWRU Department of Family Medicine and Community Health wants to guide the project as it is established in the Cleveland community. The students of the initiative also point out that The Gathering Place, a local cancer support center, has been willing to contribute to this cause.

“Young children, especially in more urban areas, are more likely to turn to other ways to deal with their grief and frustration,” said Yogeswaran. “And as a community we need to do everything we can for these kids.”

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