Northern Star




Northern Star

Northern Illinois University’s student news organization since 1899


Ensure student journalism survives. Donate today.

The Student News Site of Northern Illinois University

Northern Star

The Student News Site of Northern Illinois University

Northern Star

Kesem offers support to children of cancer patients

Camp Kesem campers spray each other with paint bottles during a “messy game” activity. Camp Kesem is a six day overnight summer camp for kids aged 6 to 18 whose parents have experienced cancer. (Courtesy of Leah Tobben)

DeKALB – From expressing your emotions by talking with others in “Cabin Chats” to getting your feelings out by covering each other in paint, Camp Kesem offers a positive outlet for children whose families have been affected by cancer. 

Kesem is a nonprofit organization that works together to bring support and positive experiences to show kids aged 6 to 18 who have a parent who has undergone, is dealing with, or has died from cancer they are not alone. Kesem has over 130 chapters, including NIU’s chapter, and has been around since Kesem originated in Stanford University in 2000, according to Kesem’s website

Parker McClure, a senior health sciences major and volunteer coordinator of Kesem, said Kesem is “honestly magical.” 

“I see it is just kind of a community for kids whose parents are affected by cancer,” McClure said. “And I see it as a fun way for them to kind of push that hard life behind and deal with it in a more of a fun-filled environment. We still have things that obviously are kind of confronting the issue, but our main thing we do is try to push those things behind and just have fun.”

Steven Vega, a senior early childhood education major and Kesem volunteer, said Kesem is a place for kids to express themselves without being judged. 

“They face many obstacles in their lives, and it may hinder their ability to partake in regular activities that allows just being themselves as a kid,” Vega said. “Kesem allows them to be part of an organization, a part of a community where they could kind of just understand each other and allow them to be themselves while not having to worry about what is going on in their personal lives.” 

Kesem puts on many different events throughout the year, but the biggest one is a six day long, overnight, summer camp that is free of charge to the campers.

The camp is held in the woods of Wisconsin. There is an abundance of activities that the kids partake in including Gaga ball, a popular outdoor game where the objective is to knock other players out by hitting their feet with a ball while in a small octagon, color wars, swimming, archery and the fan favorite “messy games.”

McClure said he would describe messy games as a rage room type experience and one of his favorite memories.  

“It’s about as carefree of a process as you can have,” McClure said. “What you do is just throw paint and whatever you can get, and you’re getting everybody absolutely covered, and it’s something that is just fun – it is a blast.” 

Although camp is not all fun and games, the campers have Cabin Chats and a night called “Empowerment Night,” where campers all share and address their reasons for coming to camp. 

Leah Fecht, a junior psychology major and volunteer, said Empowerment Night is one of the main times that the entire camp gets together to address their stories and parents’ struggle with cancer. 

“We have something we call Empowerment, which is where one night throughout the week we all are in a group together,” Fecht said. “It’s the older campers and the younger campers divided, and we talk about why we’re actually at Kesem and why we’re all there and what we all have in common with the cancer stuff.” 

Fecht said Cabin Chats are one of the main ways that cabins bond with each other. 

“We have some prompts throughout the day, we talk about the day, we talk about our emotions with things, and the campers just really share, and we get into a lot of fun little conversations in there,” Fecht said. 

Summer camp is not the only thing Camp Kesem puts on. The camp holds Cabin Chats throughout the year in order to be a listening ear to their campers and Friends and Family days when they can all meet in person. 

“Yes, we support them throughout the year,” said Leah Tobben, a junior health sciences major and co-director of Kesem at NIU. “We have what’s known as ‘Friends and Family day,’ which is like a day to get to see the campers throughout the semester. We also have what’s known as Cabin Chats, which is like a virtual online Zoom call where we just talk.” 

The organization fundraises throughout the year in every way possible, including bake sales, popcorn sales and a pie in the face fundraiser, but Fecht said Kesem also holds more serious fundraisers.

“We have a really big fundraiser, which we have on Giving Tuesday, but then we also have ‘Make the Magic’ where it is a gala that the counselor’s families or anybody the counselors knows we invite and they come together,” Fecht said. 

NIU students can apply for several different positions, whether they become a coordinator, a volunteer or a camp counselor. 

McClure said his job as volunteer coordinator is to help train the volunteers and prepare the presentations for the meetings. 

“Different coordinators have different positions. Along with that there’s counselors who go up to camp with the rest of us. And they kind of help take care of the kids for the week. One of the things is they’re all trained, so everything’s good,” McClure said. “Like there’s nothing like that, they all go through the screening, they’ll go through a lot of different processes, so we know that they’ll be good with the kids. And we have members who pretty much, they show up at meetings, they have fun, and they still help us fundraise so that we can reach our goal to send all the kids to camp for free.” 

Kesem is open year-round and open to all students at NIU. Kesem meetings happen one Tuesday a month in the Holmes Student Center. 

McClure said the organization is something that anyone could enjoy, and he would urge anyone even slightly interested to show up to a meeting. 

“I think if you hate cancer and you like kids, Kesem is a place for you.” McClure said. “I mean, you get to hang out with kids, you have a blast, it’s a blast for everyone, no matter what your age is. And you get to make a difference in so many people’s lives, and it’s life changing for yourself as well. For me, this has been a life changing experience, and I’ve only been to camp one year.”

More information about Kesem at NIU can be found on its Instagram. Donations toward the organization can be sent through its website.

More to Discover