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General Information

About Kesem

What is Kesem?

Founded in 2000, Kesem is the leading national nonprofit supporting children facing a parent’s cancer. Today, our community consists of more than 5,300 volunteer college student leaders at over 130 college chapters across the country, providing year-round programs and services for these children ages 6-18 at no cost to families.

General Information

About Kesem

What Kesem programs and services are available to families?

Kesem offers a broad range of free programs and services to support children affected by a parent’s cancer. Our flagship program, Camp Kesem, is a week-long, sleep-away summer camp. Throughout the year, families receive ongoing communication and acknowledgments, including birthday cards and welcome packages, and participate in Friends + Family Days activities.

General Information

About Kesem

What is a Kesem chapter?

Our program is organized over 130 college-based chapters, with college students from those colleges and universities volunteering year-round to operate Camp Kesem and other services.

General Information

About Kesem

Where are Kesem chapters located?

College and university chapters are located in 44 states and the District of Columbia. Visit Kesem Chapters to find one nearest you.

For Parents and Caregivers

Program Overview and Eligibility

What is Camp Kesem?

Camp Kesem is the flagship program of Kesem. It is a free overnight summer sleepaway camp (meaning that campers stay overnight at camp), typically 5 nights, 6 days long for youth impacted by a parent’s cancer.

For Parents and Caregivers

Program Overview and Eligibility

How much does camp cost?

Camp Kesem and all other year-round services are completely free of charge.

For Parents and Caregivers

Program Overview and Eligibility

Who can attend?

Camp Kesem serves youth ages 6-18 who have lost a parent to cancer, have a parent undergoing cancer treatment, or a parent that is a cancer survivor – an estimated population of over 5 million children in the United States.

When the term parent is used at Kesem, it includes any parent or guardian with primary or legal responsibility for a child. This includes biological, adoptive, and foster parents. It can also include grandparents and other relatives in parenting roles.

For Parents and Caregivers

Program Overview and Eligibility

Can children attend camp if their parent(s) had an illness or disease other than cancer? What if a sibling or other relative has cancer?

Camp Kesem is focused solely on supporting children impacted by a parent’s cancer. We are unable to support the broader circle of children whose parents have had other illnesses or children affected by other family members with cancer. 

For children who have experienced the loss of a parent, sibling, or primary caregiver due to non-cancer illnesses, visit our Family Resources page for other organizations that can offer support. 

If you have questions about a child’s eligibility for our program, please contact support@kesem.org.

For Parents and Caregivers

Program Overview and Eligibility

Can children with disabilities attend camp?

Yes! Camp Kesem welcomes campers (and staff) with disabilities, and will make reasonable accommodations for campers with disabilities and medical conditions. If such accommodations are not available, or Camp Kesem cannot ensure the child’s or other campers’ safety, then Camp Kesem is unable to accept the camper. Please contact us at support@kesem.org so we can discuss your child’s accessibility needs.

For Parents and Caregivers

Program Overview and Eligibility

Is Camp Kesem a faith-based camp?

No, Camp Kesem is a secular camp, and we welcome student volunteers and campers of all backgrounds.

For Parents and Caregivers

Program Overview and Eligibility

Can children participate and return to Camp Kesem for more than one year more than once?

Yes! Campers are part of our Kesem family for life and can return year after year until they age out of the program after age 18.

For Parents and Caregivers

Program Overview and Eligibility

What if I don't live near a chapter?

Don’t worry! Most of our programs and services are hosted off-campus. We rent out campsites for Camp Kesem. One of those locations may be more convenient for you.

For Parents and Caregivers

Program Overview and Eligibility

My child cannot attend camp or is not ready for camp at this time. Is there another way for them to be involved in Kesem?

Yes! Kesem offers additional year-round support services. This includes “Friends + Family Day” where youth impacted by a parent’s cancer can meet their peers and experience a fun half-day program. Parents and guardians are also invited to attend and experience the fun and community-building of these days!

We also send “Special Deliveries” and “Warm Welcomes” which are birthday cards and mailed packages to welcome children to the Kesem community. All youth who attend camp (or who are approved for the camp waitlist) are automatically invited to participate. Youth who are not able to attend camp, but have been impacted by a parent’s cancer, can find out more information and sign up for these programs by contacting us here.

For Parents and Caregivers

Program Overview and Eligibility

Who runs the camps and how are they screened?

Our camps are staffed by highly trained college student volunteers. Our students are carefully screened through a competitive interview process and undergo extensive training prior to camp. In addition, they work year-round to raise funds, conduct outreach in their communities, and plan the programming necessary to make camp a truly unique and unforgettable experience. Each camp is also staffed with nursing and mental health professionals and an experienced Camp Advisor. Every volunteer and staff at camp also receives a comprehensive background check.

For Parents and Caregivers

Program Overview and Eligibility

Besides the college student counselors, are there other adults at camp?

The Camp Advisor, Camp Nurse, and Camp Mental Health Professional, and much of the program staff are college-graduates over 21 years old. Additionally, all of the camp counselors are older than 18 years old and undergo a thorough application and screening process to become counselors. Camp Advisors are college graduates who are specially trained and selected by Kesem’s national staff. To be selected to be a Camp Advisor, one must have significant Camp Kesem experience and have excelled while a leader of a Camp Kesem program. Also, most campsites that Camp Kesem operates at have professional camp staff to support the Camp Kesem leadership team.

For Parents and Caregivers

Program Overview and Eligibility

Where do the camps take place?

Each Camp Kesem college chapter holds their camp in an off-site camp facility for the week of camp. These campsites are not tenting campsites, but are well-equipped campsites with cabins, activities, cafeterias, etc. Campsites that we rent are held to high standards, and are often YMCA, Girl Scout, or other professional camping venues. Campsites are typically located within 2 to 3 hours of the college chapter. Please visit each camp’s website for details on their specific location.

For Parents and Caregivers

Program Overview and Eligibility

Where do I find a local camp?

Visit the “Kesem Chapters” page.

Applying for Camp

How do I apply?

Applications open in February of each year and are processed on a first-come, first-served basis. All applications are completed online at www.kesem.org. If you need a paper application that can be printed and mailed in, you can email us at support@kesem.org or call us at 253-736-3821.

Applying for Camp

Can I complete the camper application using my mobile device?

Yes! Our camper application can be completed on a smart phone or tablet, as well as using a traditional desktop or laptop computer.

Applying for Camp

Does my child need health insurance to participate?

No. Health insurance is not required to participate and has no impact on application status.

Applying for Camp

Do I need a separate visit to my doctor's office to complete the health forms?

No. Our health form is available for use, or we will accept any documentation that provides the same information.

Applying for Camp

What if the session I want is full?

If the session you would like to register for is full, we highly encourage you to register for our wait list. We have spaces often become available for families on the waiting list. Additionally, families on the waiting list are included in priority registration the following year, and are immediately included in all year-round service offerings.

Preparing for Camp

Does Kesem provide transportation?

Many of our chapters provide bus transportation from a central area to the campsite. If a chapter does not provide bus transportation, we can typically provide another form of support with transportation to your local chapter. When you register your camper, you will be asked to check a box if you need transportation support and then we will follow-up with you to determine what will work best for your family. Unfortunately, at this time we cannot provide transportation support to families who live in a state without a Kesem chapter.

Preparing for Camp

What supplies will my child need during camp? What if we do not have all the supplies needed for camp?

You will receive a packing list before camp starts, and supplies typically include clothing, sleeping bag and pillow, towels, and sunscreen as the essentials. 

We are always happy to provide support with supplies. When you register your camper, you will be asked to check a box if you need support with supplies and we will follow up with you to determine what is needed. At any time, please don’t hesitate to let us know if there is a packing list item you don’t have.

Your Child At Camp

What do campers do at Camp Kesem?

Please visit the “A Day at Camp” section of our website to see a sample schedule for a day at Camp Kesem.

Your Child At Camp

What is the food like?

We serve three nutritious kid-friendly meals a day, along with snacks. Our menus vary but may include things like burritos, pizza, sandwiches and salad, or burgers all with sides of vegetables or fruit. Breakfasts can include sausage, pancakes, cereal, eggs, etc. We have plenty of snacks available at camp for throughout the day.

There are always vegetarian options available. Our campsites are committed to accommodating allergies and special dietary needs. Please be sure to note your child’s dietary restrictions on their application (and if your child is a picky eater please also note this and what kinds of foods they typically like at home!).

Your Child At Camp

What are the sleeping arrangements?

While the cabin setup varies between camp locations, we typically have 5-10 youth of a similar age in each single-gender cabin (along with 3-4 counselors of the same gender identity). Each child has their own single bed (often bunk-beds) and all cabins have electricity. Campers are never left unsupervised.

Your Child At Camp

Can I stay in touch with my child by phone during the week of camp? What if there is an emergency?

We find that these conversations often increase homesickness and delay children’s adjustment to camp. Additionally, it is not feasible for all children to call home.  If one child calls home, it can cause increased homesickness for other campers. Except under the most unusual circumstances, campers are not permitted to talk with their families over the telephone for the following reasons:

  • We keep the campers very busy with lots of fun during camp! We do not want to have to pull them away from their activities and peers to come to the phone.
  • We prioritize keeping phone lines open for urgent calls. We will absolutely contact you if there are any concerns, and will provide you with contact information so you can contact us in case of emergency. We will also post pictures and brief updates online throughout the week of camp.
  • We know this might be a new experience for many families! We are happy to explain this policy further and address any questions or concerns you might have or connect you with a returning camper family. If you believe your family might have an unusual circumstance (for example, wanting to update a child about a parent’s medical condition during the week of camp) please let us know and we can discuss.

Your Child At Camp

We would like to talk to parents who have sent their child to Camp Kesem. Can you share some names and phone numbers with us?

Yes! We’d be happy to connect you with one of the Kesem families who have graciously offered to speak with prospective parents. Please use the “Contact Us” page to let us know you are interested. We recommend providing a bit of information about your children (ages, any concerns about attending camp, language spoken etc.) so we can connect you with a family who can best answer your questions.

Your Child At Camp

Will my transgender or gender expansive child be supported at camp?

Camp Kesem affirms and welcomes people of all gender identities, and will work with your family to ensure your transgender or gender expansive child has a positive experience at camp. Camp Kesem recognizes that gender identity exists on a spectrum. We will work with your family after receiving your application to select a sleeping area that most closely matches your child’s gender identity. As part of our values at Kesem, we ask that everyone in the Kesem family respects the gender identity of one another including sleeping area selection, names, and pronouns.

Your Child At Camp

What does Camp Kesem do to keep our children safe at camp?

The health and safety of your children has always been, and will continue to be, our number one priority. To help ensure their safety, every volunteer who attends camp must first complete over 30 hours of training, which includes modules on how to address bullying, prevent harassment, and support campers’ mental health. Additionally, Camp Kesem performs a background check on all our camp volunteers. Finally, our policies ensure campers and staff are never alone, and our high 3:1 camper to counselor ratio allows an excellent standard of supervision – far more than you would see at any traditional summer camp.

Your Child At Camp

Will someone be at camp to issue my child’s medication?

Yes, a licensed Camp Nurse will be on-site at all times to issue all medications and care for any injuries or sickness.

Your Child At Camp

What is the staff ratio at camp?

We realize that children of cancer patients have additional needs- and we address them by giving them extra attention and support. Camp Kesem has a 3:1 camper to counselor ratio to ensure that campers receive extra attention. These counselors ensure that camp is a safe, supportive, high-energy, and fun place for every camper. Campers are supervised at all times and are never alone 1:1 with one another or with a staff member.

Your Child At Camp

What if my child can’t swim?

All water activities are supervised by at least two certified lifeguards in addition to our counselors. Our campsites also provide life jackets. Campers are also not required to participate in swim activities – as with all of our activities, participation is optional and there are alternate activities available.

Your Child At Camp

Does Camp Kesem provide therapy?

No. Our student leaders provide a warm and loving environment where children are free to share their feelings with one another. Our model focuses on providing a strong peer-based support network where children can find strength, hope, compassion, and fun.

Your Child At Camp

What is a Leader In Training?

Leader In Training (LIT) are our 14-18 year olds who participate in our Teen Leadership Program as a part of camp. LITs are split into two separate groups – our 14-16 year olds, and 17-18 year olds. Both groups are focused on having fun at camp and participating in age appropriate activities and leadership development; our older LITs will have additional opportunities for development through workshops and trainings.

Your Child At Camp

Do you provide American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation?

Yes! We want everyone who is interested in attending to be able to do so, including our Deaf and hard of hearing community members. ASL Interpreters can be made available at camp and other Kesem events such as Friends + Family Day upon request, provided we are given enough advanced notice. Requests for ASL interpretation during camp should be made at minimum three weeks prior to camp to support@kesem.org. After that date, requests cannot be guaranteed.

Your Child At Camp

Are children required to talk about their parent’s cancer?

Absolutely not. Your child will quickly become part of a loving, supportive community of other children – all of whom understand each other and respect each other. For most of our campers, being a part of this community – with other kids who are just like them – is empowering, comforting, encouraging, and inspirational. Campers are given optional opportunities to share or not share anything that is on their mind in nightly “Cabin Chats” which are held with their own cabin (and facilitated by our trained student leaders). They are also invited to participate with all campers in an Empowerment Ceremony – intended to honor all camper families and their individual family’s journey.

For Volunteers and Staff

College Students

How do I become involved with Camp Kesem as a student volunteer?

Our counselors and student volunteers are enrolled at colleges and universities with a Kesem chapter. Our students work all year long planning and fundraising to host Camp Kesem and provide year-round services like birthday cards, welcome packages, and Friends + Family Day. See our list of chapters.

Some chapters also offer opportunities for involvement for nearby community college or satellite campus students – contact your local chapter to find out if they offer this partnership program.

For Volunteers and Staff

College Students

How do I start a Camp Kesem chapter at my university?

If you are interested in starting Kesem at your university, please complete the form on our “Start a Camp” page.

For Volunteers and Staff

College Students

I want to volunteer, can I attend camp?

While we love our volunteers, camp is only for campers, counselors and professional staff. If you would like to get involved in other ways, visit our “Kesem Volunteer Opportunities” page.

Camp Staff

What is the “Health & Wellness Team”?

The Health & Wellness Team works together at camp to maintain the safety of all campers and staff at camp. This makes it necessary for these team members to work together collaboratively. Although each team member has a specific role (outlined below), the goal is to reach a consensus. Professional judgment is considered and valued while ultimately abiding by established rules and policies. 

  • Nurses: Manage first aid and medical situations that arise at camp; responsibly distribute medications to campers and counselors.
  • Mental Health Professionals (MHPs): Manage behavioral and emotional situations that arise at camp. Provide support to counselors to better serve their campers.
  • Camp Advisors: Ensure that established policies and procedures are implemented appropriately at camp. Camp Advisors serve as the liaison between the chapter and National during camp.
  • Support Aide (if needed): Assist in program planning, coach counselors through accommodations, and guide campers in camp participation.

Interpreter (if needed): Translate and interpret spoken language using American Sign Language or other manual sign language systems and vice versa to facilitate communication between hearing and Deaf/HOH individuals.

Camp Staff

How do I apply?

The application opens in the spring and can be accessed through Kesem’s website.

Camp Staff

Can I complete the Health & Wellness Team application using my mobile device?

Yes! Our Health & Wellness Team application can be completed on a smartphone or tablet, as well as using a traditional desktop or laptop computer.

Camp Staff

Will I be paid for my time at camp?

Please contact your local chapter if you are interested in learning more about compensation.

Camp Staff

Does Camp Kesem provide therapy?

No. Our student leaders provide a warm and loving environment where children are free to share their feelings with one another. Our model focuses on providing a strong peer-based support network where children can find strength, hope, compassion and fun. See a sample schedule for a day at Camp Kesem.

Camp Staff

Can I attend more than one session of camp?

Yes! When completing an application, you will have the option to select which chapters you are interested in attending. If you choose that you are willing to travel to other camps in your application, a member of our staff will reach out to you about upcoming opportunities throughout the late spring/summer.

Camp Staff

I cannot attend camp at this time. Is there another way to get involved in Kesem?

Camp Staff

Where do I sleep at camp?

It depends on the camp. Members of the Health & Wellness Team usually sleep with the Administration Team and Camp Advisor(s). Check with your chapter about what your accommodations will look like.

Camp Staff

Do you provide transportation assistance?

Each Kesem chapter may provide transportation assistance or transportation reimbursement for members of the Health & Wellness Team. Please contact your local chapter to inquire about their ability to provide transportation support for you.

Camp Staff

What do I wear?

Athletic, comfortable clothes are highly recommended. Something light and loose that you don’t mind getting messy! Closed-toed shoes are required except when at the pool (crocs count!).

Camp Staff

What is the best part of serving on the Camp Kesem Health & Wellness Team?

Each member of our Health & Wellness Team has something they love most about supporting our chapters. Here are just a few highlights of being a part of the Health & Wellness Team: s’mores, providing campers with an escape, building relationships with campers and counselors, and growing in your abilities as a professional!

Camp Staff

What is the most challenging part of serving on the Camp Kesem Health & Wellness Team?

It can be difficult working in a system where you have limited control. There are structures, activities, and policies that you may not be used to; however, they are still necessary. Organization and adapting to a camp environment - it’s so different from every other job!

Camp Staff

Where do the camps take place?

Each Kesem college chapter holds its camp in an off-site camp facility for the week of camp. These campsites are not tenting campsites, but are well-equipped campsites with cabins, activities, cafeterias, etc. Campsites that we rent are held to high standards and are often YMCA, Girl Scout, or other professional camping venues. Campsites are typically located within 2-3 hours of the college chapter. Please visit each camp’s website for details on their specific site.

Camp Staff

What is the food like?

We serve three nutritious meals a day, along with snacks. Our menus vary but may include things like burritos, pizza, sandwiches, salad, or burgers with sides of vegetables or fruit. Breakfasts can consist of sausage, pancakes, cereal, eggs, etc. We have plenty of snacks available at camp throughout the day.

There are always vegetarian options available. Our campsites are committed to accommodating allergies and special dietary needs. Please be sure to note your dietary restrictions on your application.

Camp Staff

Who runs the camps? How are they screened?

Our camps are staffed by highly trained college student leaders. These students are carefully screened through a competitive interview process and undergo extensive training before camp. In addition, our student leaders work year-round to raise funds, conduct outreach in their communities, and plan the programming necessary to make camp a truly unique and unforgettable experience. Each camp is also staffed with a Health & Wellness Team consisting of Nurses, Mental Health Professionals, and an experienced Camp Advisor. Every volunteer and staff at camp also receives a comprehensive background check.

Camp Staff

Is Camp Kesem a faith-based camp?

No, Camp Kesem is a secular camp, and we welcome student volunteers and campers of all backgrounds.

Camp Staff

What does Camp Kesem do to keep children safe at camp?

The health and safety of your children has always been and will continue to be our number one priority. To help ensure their safety, every volunteer who attends camp must first complete over 30 hours of training, including modules on how to address bullying, prevent harassment, and support campers’ mental health. 

Additionally, Kesem performs a background check on all our camp volunteers. Finally, our policies ensure campers and staff are never alone, and our high 3:1 camper to counselor ratio allows an excellent standard of supervision – far more than you would see at any traditional summer camp.