Student-run camp faces financial woes

Matt Straney teaches archery at Camp Kesem. He participated in running the camp for four years. To the kids at camp he is known as "Aquaman." Courtesy Lauren M. Coughlin

For more than a decade, Camp Kesem has been bringing magic to children whose parents have been diagnosed with cancer. This year, however, the camp may be in financial trouble.

Camp Kesem, which means magic in Hebrew, is a free sleepover-camp run by college students with more than 40 chapters nationwide. It welcomes all children between the ages of 6 and 16, and no child is turned away.

“It’s an amazing organization and allows kids to be with other kids who are dealing with the same struggles at home, whether they choose to talk about it at camp or not,” said Abigail Zocco, the co-chair of UM’s Camp Kesem chapter.

Daily camp activities include swimming, arts and crafts, singing, races and various competitions. At night, counselors and campers participate in Cabin Chats.

“Most of the younger campers simply talk about camp and things they had fun doing, while our teen campers often share their stories of their family’s battle with cancer,” Zocco said.

This year, fundraising has been slower than usual even as the camp is expecting around 60 children this summer.

“I think the economy is a contributing factor,” Camp Kesem’s UM chapter co-chair Brielle Buckler said. “People who usually donate are not donating as much.”

The current goal is to raise $20,000. However, the organization has “got a ways to go to reach that,” Zocco said.

Their current strategy is to continue to hold fundraisers at places like TCBY and My Yogurt Bliss, as well as through various sporting events. Also, they plan to apply for several grants and petition local businesses for donations. Counselors are also personally responsible for raising a certain amount of money.

“We take donations from anywhere we can get them,” Zocco said.

For Buckler, the camp has made a personal impact on her life.

“It was the best week I’ve ever had in my life,” she said. “My dad had cancer, and seeing the kids helps me cope and relate to them. It truly changed my life. You can’t believe the feeling you get after the kids don’t want to leave the camp. It’s amazing.”

Zocco has also been impacted by the kids at Camp Kesem.

“I’ve learned a lot from my campers,” she said. “Hearing their stories and the varying types of situations their families have gone through has allowed me to see the amazing strength that lies within so many kids who have found themselves in these situations.”

If you would like to apply to be a Camp Kesem counselor, email Brielle Buckler at