Camp Kasem

The week before school started, a number of Yalies arrived back on campus to spend a week with the campers of Camp Kesem in Torrington, Connecticut.

Camp Kesem’s mission is to support children “through and beyond a parent’s cancer,” primarily through a weeklong camp consisting of activities and games. College students work as counselors to help provide a supportive community at the camp, which is free for all campers. Each participating college organizes a separate camp where it runs a week of activities similar to those offered at a sleep-away camp. Yale is one of more than 100 colleges organizing camps.

In an interview with the News, Maciej Zielonka ’21, a Camp Kesem counselor this summer, said that while the camp itself takes place during August, much of the planning happens during the school year. At Yale, prospective camp counselors apply during the spring semester. Zielonka said that fundraising is a “big part” of their preparatory work, with each counselor responsible for raising $500 each, approximately the cost of sending one child to the camp.

For Zielonka, the best part of the experience was working with the kids.

“The kids are amazing, and the newcomers especially are so excited to do camp and so enthusiastic about everything. It was such a pleasure to play along with them and to make an impact on their lives,” he said. “What happened to their parents is tragic, but to create a community where they can talk about it is incredibly meaningful.”

For Diana Ruiz ’20, working as a counselor at Camp Kesem provided an opportunity to work on an issue that hits especially close to home for her. When asked why she decided to become a counselor, Ruiz mentioned that her family members had been impacted by cancer. As a child, she said, she did not have an open dialogue to talk about cancer in the community setting, which is just what Kesem provides.

Like Zielonka, Ruiz’s favorite part of the camp was getting to meet the kids and seeing firsthand how inspiring they are.

“On one of the days, there is a portion where the kids all share their stories to their fellow campers in their cabin, and I think that is especially meaningful,” she said.

Cate Sawkins ’21, a staff reporter for the News, went so far as to say that she felt as though the campers had more of an impact on her than she had on them.

“I honestly felt as though the campers were the most inspirational part of being there,” she said. “I’m incredibly thankful for the experience.”

Launched in 2000 at Stanford University, Camp Kesem has expanded to more than 100 campuses in over 40 states to meet the need of a growing number of children who have parents struggling with cancer.

Isha Dalal |