Camp for kids with cancer-stricken parents may come to campus

Camp Kesem, a university-based weeklong summer camp program for kids with parents affected by cancer, may come to campus during summer 2014.

Amanda Murray ’14 and Danna Moustafa ’14 have spearheaded a campaign to establish a Yale chapter of the camp, which began at Stanford University 13 years ago and has since been extended to 41 camps in 24 states. The camp hosts over 2,000 children each year nationwide, and Murray and Moustafa said they hope the Yale chapter will benefit campers while also giving Yale students — who would work as counselors — a deeper sense of perspective.

“First, the goal is to give these kids a chance to be kids and give them a chance to relate to others about the same types of things they went through,” said Murray, whose sister was the co-chair of Kesem at Stanford. “The second [goal] is to give students leadership positions where they can really benefit these kids.”

Roughly 20 undergraduates are helping to bring Kesem to Yale and many of those involved in the initiative have had a family member with cancer or have worked with individuals suffering from the disease, Murray said. She added that she believes students have been motivated to join the effort to help others cope with the same difficulties they have faced.

This year, the Livestrong Foundation will help fund 12 more Camp Kesem locations — one from each of five designated regions in the United States and seven additional sites. At the beginning of March, Murray and Moustafa applied for funding from Livestrong and applied to be considered in the first round. The pair submitted a list of interested students, a personal essay and three letters of recommendation.

After successfully passing the first round, the group is now competing in a public online voting contest on the Livestrong website with 23 other schools. Voting ends on Thursday and Yale is currently in second place in its region. If the Yale students receive the most votes within their region, they will be provided with the funds, materials and training necessary to host Camp Kesem. If the Yale students do not win the voting contest within their region, they could still be designated one of the seven additonal sites.

The camp would likely take place at a campground in the New Haven area to simulate an overnight camp for kids who may not be able to afford traditional summer camp. The camp would be capped at 50 students, who would participate in typical summer camp activities — such as hiking and swimming — to bond with one another. Moustafa said the camp allows students to feel comfortable with others who are going through a similar experience with cancer-stricken parents.

“One of the great things about camp is that it’s a form of social support,” Moustafa said. “These children probably find it hard to find that support on a normal basis.”

Moustafa said she was initially drawn to the project because of her personal experiences working at a cancer center in high school, where she observed how kids were emotionally impacted by having a close relation with a cancer patient.

She added that because a large number of Yale students are interested in community service, she thinks that many would be excited about getting involved with a Camp Kesem chapter on campus.

“In general, Yale students are so excited about things,” Moustafa said. “I think an opportunity like this would be great way to use that passion, and we’ve already gotten so much enthusiasm about the program.”

Seyi Adeyinka ’15, who is helping with the initiative, said she decided to become involved because she is particularly interested in health issues in urban areas and has family friends that have had cancer.

“I think this can definitely help kids be in an environment where they feel like it [is] normal to have a parent with this disease” Adeyinka said.

Since its founding, Camp Kesem has hosted 8,489 campers across the country.

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