Camp Kesem

As Giving Tuesday came to a close, Camp Kesem Yale — a camp program committed to helping children whose parents have cancer — had raised $71,637 over the course of 24 hours, ensuring that at least 71 children from the tri-state area will be fully supported for an entire year of Kesem-related programming.

The Tuesday after Thanksgiving, Giving Tuesday began as a collaboration between New York’s 92nd Street Y and the United Nations Foundation in 2012. Across the country, people and organizations promote goodwill and philanthropy through social media campaigns and community-building efforts to offset the nationwide frenzy of consumerism that takes place throughout the Black Friday-Cyber Monday weekend. Giving Tuesday represents one of Camp Kesem Yale’s biggest fundraising opportunities, falling on the second day of the on campus nonprofit’s week-long campaign, “Krazy Kesem Week.”

Camp Kesem Yale is one of more than 100 campus chapters across 40 different states collectively driven by more than 4,000 college students who work to support children with parents affected by cancer. In August 2017, more than 7,400 children ages six to 18 came together for week-long camps from coast-to-coast to participate in confidence-building and communication skills-enhancing activities among others. According to Camp Kesem Yale co-director Julia Zou ’19, more than five million American kids are affected by a parent’s cancer.

“These kids always express that, at home, their friends at school don’t really know what they’re going through and it’s not something they can talk about,” said Zou, who was a counselor for girls aged 13 and 14 this past year. “Camp Kesem is a community where everyone understands each other and feels like they can share.”

Zou and the rest of this year’s chapter board had set their sights on raising $25,000 from their Giving Tuesday campaign, as an anonymous donor offered to match their total for the day. By nightfall, the Yalies’ tireless efforts through photo and social media campaigns had paid off: After they surpassed their initial goal, the donation match was increased to $30,000. In total, the group more than tripled the amount it raised in 2016 when it accumulated $21,000 on Giving Tuesday.

Beginning on Monday, volunteers both new and old to Camp Kesem Yale set up a stall on Cross Campus for members of the Yale community to show their support for the camp with special photo frames. Camp Kesem members also participated in a “truth and dare” campaign in which they offered to shave their eyebrows, run a marathon or eat a ghost pepper, among an array of other challenges to encourage friends and family to help them reach their fundraising goals. On Wednesday and Thursday, the group sold Toad’s tickets to Yale undergraduates.

Zou estimates that 80 percent of Yale Kesem’s budget goes directly to camp programming, from funding for the campsite to meals and activities. Campers attend free of charge. Kesem allocates other funds to pay for staff training for nearly 60 Yalies and yearlong peer support for campers. While at home, campers receive birthday cards and welcome packets from counselors, maintaining the friendships formed in the cabins.

“The counselors are role models to the kids,” Zou said. “The kids love hanging out with them, and they become your friends as soon as you meet them.” Each counselor assumes a fun camp persona for the children. During Camp Kesem, Zou goes by “Sprinkles.”

As one of the development coordinators, Rachel Dow ’20 was chiefly responsible for putting together the online fundraising platform, coordinating each volunteer’s “truth and dare” challenge and blowing up social media feeds with tagged photos and fundraising goal updates.

Dow was brought to tears when she saw how many people both at Yale and beyond were invested in Kesem’s cause. When explaining why Camp Kesem is one of the most valuable activities she is a part of at Yale, Dow cited a particular Facebook post by a Kesem parent.

“Saturday was the first time I have seen my eldest son smiling and animated since my wife’s passing seven months ago,” wrote the father on Camp Kesem Yale’s page at the conclusion of the last camp session. “This camp seems to build the resilience in children like no other experience can.”

Camp Kesem at Yale was founded in 2013 and has since expanded to include a counselor-in-training program for 17- and 18-year-olds. In 2018, the program will take place at Camp Wahnee in Winchester, Connecticut.

Julianna Lai | julianna.lai@yale.edu