Camp Kesem

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Camp Kesem is a nationwide community, driven by college students, supporting children through and beyond their parent's cancer. Camp Kesem is a growing national movement, transforming more lives each year. Since 2000, when it was founded at Stanford University, Camp Kesem has grown from a single camp, to over 100 active chapters coast to coast.

"Kesem (n.): magic; the ability to change a life; an agent of growth; the unique power that transforms kids into Camp Kesem Campers."


The first Camp Kesem project was founded at Stanford University in 2000 as a project of Hillel at Stanford, a nonprofit serving Jewish students at the University. The project was developed by founder Iris Rave, and a group of student leaders who sought to create a magical summer camp experience for children in need.

After assessing the needs of the community, the students found that children who have, or have had, a parent with cancer comprised an under-served population who could benefit from a summer camp experience with peers who faced similar challenges.

The Camp Kesem project at Stanford hosted its first summer session in June 2001, free of charge to 37 campers. Since then, the project has continued and has grown each year to engage more student volunteers and serve more children across the country.

Based on the success of Camp Kesem at Stanford, Iris Rave founded Camp Kesem National in August 2002 to share the project's model with college campuses across the nation.

Staff and Board of Directors[edit]

  • Jane Saccaro, Chief Executive Officer (Camp Name “Pocket”)
  • Jim Higley, Chief Development & Marketing Officer (Camp Name “Pops”)
  • Aaron Hadley, Chief Operating Officer (Camp Name “H”)
  • Cristin O’Leary, Development Director (Camp Name "Babalu")
  • Jess Ryan, Director of Alumni Relations (Camp Name “Honey”)
  • Bree Turner, Development Associate (Camp Name “Cheddar”)
  • Liz Firestone, Manager of Programs (Camp Name “Phishy”)
  • Alexandra Baldwin, Manager of Programs (Camp Name "Lola")
  • Abby O’Leary, Director of Finance and Administration (Camp Name “Avocado”)
  • Jenna Barnett, Program Director (Camp Name “Goose”)
  • Tracey Landstrom, Manager of Operations (Camp Name “Pebbles”)
  • Kristen Elfering, Executive Assistant (Camp Name “Crush”)
  • Fanny Wilson, Accountant (Camp Name “Bean”)
  • Scott Arizala, Camp Director (Camp Name “Funsize”)

Collegiate chapters[edit]



With 1.7 million cancer cases a year in the United States, more than three million kids are affected by a parent’s cancer. Camp Kesem recognizes and embraces this often-overlooked population of children. Because they don’t appear sick, their needs are often overlooked and they suffer quietly, leading to academic, social, emotional, and developmental problems.

Giving kids the opportunity to be kids[edit]

Since 2000, Camp Kesem has given children affected by a parent's cancer the opportunity to just be kids. The ever-expanding Kesem community engages in camp activities like sports, arts and crafts, and drama to give campers a fun-filled week. Campers also participate in "Cabin Chats" with fellow campers and counselors, giving them the chance to share their experiences with each other. There are plenty of laughs and lots of emotional support, but Camp Kesem does not provide therapy. The tremendous fun and support campers experience is what makes Camp Kesem a transformative, magical week for campers and counselors alike.

Empowering a generation of student leaders[edit]

Camp Kesem makes a huge impact on the lives of children, but it also prepares and empowers a generation of student leaders by allowing responsible college-age individuals to make a meaningful difference. Each of the camps around the country is organized and operated by young up-and-coming leaders of tomorrow, who gain hands-on experience in fundraising, finance, marketing and project management as they bring much-needed happiness to truly deserving kids. In addition to real-world skills, Camp Kesem enables student leaders to discover their passion for serving others.


In 2014, Camp Kesem served nearly 4,000 children affected by a parent's cancer and empowered more than 2,000 student leaders from across the country. Since 2000, Camp Kesem has shared its "magic" with over 11,300 children and provided unparalleled leadership opportunities for nearly 7,000 student leaders.

  • 98 percent of parents surveyed believe that Camp Kesem has had a positive impact on their family .
  • After camp, parents report a marked increase in their child's self-esteem, confidence and network of support.
  • 99 percent of parents surveyed would recommend Camp Kesem to another family affected by cancer.

A day at Camp Kesem[edit]

Every day at Camp Kesem gives campers an opportunity to try something new, make great friends, and have fun. Each camp is different, but they follow a similar daily schedule:

  • Wake up
  • Breakfast
  • Morning activity rotations
  • Cabin time
  • Lunch
  • Rest time
  • Swimming
  • Afternoon activity rotations
  • Camper's choice
  • Dinner
  • All-camp activity
  • Cabin chat: an opportunity for the campers and counselors in each cabin to learn about each other and to discuss anything they want - often there will be question prompts suggested by either the campers or the counselor, such as: "Which superhero would you like to be and why?"
  • Lights out
  • Empowerment: Once each week, time is set aside for the entire camp to get together to acknowledge why they are there. This is a time for campers to talk to each other and share their stories – their fears, their accomplishments, their hopes and dreams. Anyone can talk if they choose to, but not everybody has to. It is a truly magical experience for everyone involved.

Vision, mission, and values[edit]

Vision: To create a community where fun has the power to transform lives.

Mission: "Camp Kesem is a nationwide community, driven by passionate college student leaders, supporting children through and beyond their parent's cancer."[1]


  • Compassion
  • Community
  • Safety
  • Confidence
  • Leadership
  • Magic


  1. ^ "About Us". Retrieved March 17, 2015. 

External links[edit]