Camp lends support to kids of cancer victims

Members of Camp Kesem Miami are hoping to offer families coping with cancer a “magical” experience this summer. “Kesem,” which means “magic” in Hebrew, is a free, student-run summer camp for children ages 6-13 with a parent who has or had cancer. This is the first time it will be held at the University of Miami.

Board member Heather Block said the camp is “an opportunity for kids to be kids.”

The one week sleep-away camp began at Stanford University in 2001. It has evolved into a nationwide program with 24 participating college campuses including, the University of Florida to Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Columbia University. Nine new camps, including UM, are launching this summer and 15 are returning.

One of Camp Kesem’s national program directors contacted Keith Fletcher, director of University of Miami’s Butler Center for Volunteer Service and Leadership Development, about bringing the organization to Miami. At the beginning of last semester, Fletcher spoke to freshman student leader Jane Pryjmak about guiding the effort.

“I was inspired to do this because I lost my mother to cancer five years ago and know that I would have loved to have had an experience like Camp Kesem when I was going through her illness,” said Pryjmak, now a co-chair of the organization.

Pryjmak was 13 when her mother became ill. “At that point, I kind of ceased to be a child. I became her caregiver,” she said.

Pryjmak said it would have been very helpful to meet other people going through the same thing.

“It’s that whole ‘you are not alone’ mentality,” she said.

Since Pryjmak’s first information session back in October, the organization has expanded into a 12-member board that oversees four committees of student volunteers. The committees are responsible for recruiting campers, selecting and training counselors, fundraising and planning the camp program.

“We’re really enthusiastic about this cause,” said Block, who lost her grandfather to cancer this past November. “A lot of us are really passionate about it because of our first hand experiences.”

The organization has not yet finalized a place or time for the camp, but Pryjmak said it will probably be hosted at a campsite about 30 minutes south of campus and approximately two weeks before school starts in August.

Camp activities will likely include sports, arts and crafts, and canoeing. The group hopes to have 25 campers.

“When I heard a story that one family had not had their honeymoon until they sent their child to Camp Kesem, I knew that this would be an awesome and rewarding experience,” said Carl Speer, another Camp Kesem board member. “I hope these children leave Camp Kesem having found lifelong friends and a big smile on their faces.”

Victoria Genuardi may be contacted at