SOPHIE BITNER, Staff Writer—This past year, Denison has been lucky enough to join the other 100+ colleges across the nation in establishing a Camp Kesem chapter. 

Founded in 2000 at Stanford University, Camp Kesem is a national nonprofit organization that provides a free summer camp for children whose parents are at any stage of their fight with cancer. The organization strives to be “a child’s friend through and beyond a parent’s cancer,” a commitment that begins at a week-long camp and continues as a support network. Like its Hebrew name implies, the “Magic” of “Kesem” is to give kids a place to have fun, and to remind them that they are not alone. 

Last year Denison participated in a nationwide vote to establish a Camp Kesem chapter. Denison was voted a finalist and is now one of the smallest colleges in the nation with a Kesem chapter — a testament to Denisonians’ commitment to giving back. The small size of Denison has advantages that big universities, like OSU, do not. Our school is able to reach out to children from many different socioeconomic backgrounds in the Licking County area. This “diversity lens,” as co-director, Claire Larsen ‘21 describes it, “ensures representation for children who may be excluded at large schools with lengthy waiting lists.”  

Outreach at Denison’s chapter, coordinated by Maddy Murphy ‘23, is in the process of gathering 25 campers from the Licking County area. This is done through a number of outlets, including schools, churches, and hospitals. Codirector Meg Wilson ‘21 explains that in the process, “it is important to stress that it is 100% free.” 

Camp Kesem is intended to be an escape, not an added financial burden. The Denison chapter is hoping to raise between $25,000-$30,000 in order to provide this relief. So far, they have already raised an impressive $16,000 from support in the broader community. These funds are used to provide everything a child may need at a typical summer camp, such as gear, messy clothes to play in, or sleeping bags. 

Maddy Murphy ‘23 was a camper herself at Kesem from fourth grade through twelfth. Beyond and throughout her father’s battle with cancer, Kesem allowed her to be a kid. Murphy explains that, in that situation, “you have to grow up really fast.” 

Camp Kesem is not a week-long program on how to deal with a parent having cancer. Kesem is a normal summer camp, with activities like bonfires, ‘smores, paddle boarding, and theme days. Children even get to pick fun camp names, such as “flying fish’’ or “horcrux.” This “lets kids know,” says Murphy, “that their identity is more than cancer.” Murphy views her transition from camper to counselor this summer as a “full circle moment.” She is excited to fill the counselor role, explaining that, “it is a transformative week for the campers and counselors.”

Currently, Denison is seeking students who would be interested in being a camp counselor at Kesem. The camp is an overnight stay from August 2 – August 7 in Cincinnati. Applications are being accepted until spring break and seniors are welcome to apply. The application is non-binding. Additionally, students who are not ready to be a counselor can still be involved in this meaningful organization on campus. There are opportunities to make birthday cards and bracelets for the children, or even plan a day of camp. A little bit of involvement can go a long way. For these children, Wilson explains, being part of Kesem “can make a difference for life.”