Camp Kesem continues summer program with 'Kesem at Home'

<p>A Camp Kesem attendee, nicknamed "Cheese Pizza," holds letters at the annual Make the Magic Gala fundraiser. This year, Camp Kesem will hold an online summer program to prevent the spread of COVID-19. <strong>Audrey Williams, Photo Provided</strong></p>

A Camp Kesem attendee, nicknamed "Cheese Pizza," holds letters at the annual Make the Magic Gala fundraiser. This year, Camp Kesem will hold an online summer program to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Audrey Williams, Photo Provided

Instead of regular camp activities, this year Camp Kesem at Ball State will be hosting Kesem at Home, an online summer program for children, June 29-July 3.

Audrey Williams, co-director of the camp, said in an email the purpose of this program is to give children who were influenced by parent’s cancer the opportunity to express their feelings and build relationships with each other.

“They are organized, friendly and so passionate about helping others going through the cancer journey,” she said. “Many of them have been through this journey themselves with a parent or a friend.  Some have lost a parent to cancer.  I believe it is this personal connection and understanding that makes Kesem so special and genuine.”

There are some differences between holding such an event online as opposed to in person. She said people may not have access to attend some big events together. 

“However, we have found ways to transfer some of these activities to an online platform to mimic as much of in-person camp as possible,” Williams said.

Another major difference, she said, is the way the organizers have arranged the time schedules during the online camp.

“Instead of spending all day with the campers in person, we will just have three or four activities daily and the campers can choose which activities they want to participate in,” she said.

Williams said they will provide online service, such as Cabin Chats and Empowerment Ceremonies, “which provide a safe space for campers to share their stories.”

The two programs, she said, will be held every day. The morning show will be seen on Facebook every day and it will include some activity schedule. 

“We will also have sessions to make friendship bracelets, complete arts/crafts that are sent to each camper's home, have a talent show, and play bingo,” she said. “Campers will participate by watching our Facebook livestream, participating in Zoom calls, and completing offline activities with instructions that are in their kit.”

Dede Connor, parent of three children who are campers and one child who is a consultant at Camp Kesem, completed her cancer treatment in November 2015. She initially sent her children to the summer camp because she felt their world was full of uncertainty and she wanted them to stay away from the world of worry.

“When someone in your family is diagnosed with cancer, it completely takes over,” Conner said. “ It takes over the schedule of the entire family, not just the schedule of the person diagnosed.  As the mother of the family, this is hard to watch.  Mothers are supposed to be self-sacrificing for their children.”

In 2016, she said her kids were in the first group to engage in Ball State Camp Kesem's first camp. They also have participation experience in summer camps from 2016-19 and will join in virtual summer camps in 2020.

In September 2017, Connor said another traumatic incident would affect her and her family.

“Our family was changed forever when our 14-year-old son, Jack, took his own life in our home,” she said.

It was during this time, and the years that followed, that the family’s connection with Camp Kesem strengthened.

“The trauma that my children experienced from this event has left them with scars that can never be healed,” Connor said. “However, they had the connections with their CK counselors prior to losing their brother and the CK counselors have been an amazing support to our family and the children after we lost Jack.”

After the first summer camp in 2016, the counselors still keep in touch with Connor’s children, and give Connor’s children encouragement.

While being held online, Williams said this year’s activities will help the camp participants be more creative in a short span of time.

“We are sending a ‘Kesem at Home Kit’ to each camper which contains a camp t-shirt, letters from their counselors, and the supplies they need to complete the activities for the week,” she said.

Williams said they are excited for what they need to do in this period.

“The goal is for the activities to still be meaningful for the campers — the fun ones will allow them to just be a kid, and the Zoom chats will provide the safe space for them to talk, just like they would at camp,” she said.

Contact Weiyu Ding with comments at wding@bsu.edu or on Twitter @WeiyuDing.

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