This fall, the University of Maine established the first chapter of Camp Kesem, a national non-profit organization, in the state of Maine. Founded in 2000 at Stanford University, Camp Kesem provides a free week at summer camp for children who have been impacted by a parent’s cancer diagnosis.
With over 100 chapters across 40 states, Camp Kesem allows children between the ages of six and 18 to spend a week enveloped in a community of their peers. They hope to foster friendships, promote confidence, improve communication skills and enhance life outlook in campers. At the end of the week, Camp Kesem hopes each child leaves with a network of people that they can call on for support throughout the year.
In a typical day at Camp Kesem, campers get to engage and explore a myriad of activities. Split into units consisting of boys and girls in the same age group, campers are offered morning and afternoon activity rotations which can include ropes courses, arts and crafts, sports and water activities. The variety offered at Camp Kesem promises that campers and counselors are likely to have a fun and transformative week.
Grace Pouliot, a rising elementary education student, and Adam Fortier-Brown, a senior economics and political science student, are co-directors of the UMaine Camp Kesem chapter for the 2018 school year.
“Grace and I applied to be co-directors, and were fortunate enough to be awarded the positions,” Fortier-Brown said. “Both of us have personal stories with cancer as well, which is an all too common story.”
According to the Camp Kesem website, over five million children in the U.S. are impacted by a parent’s cancer. In summer 2017, the organization served over 7,300 campers; this year UMaine will contribute to increasing that number.
“Knowing how much a loved one’s cancer can affect a child, we wanted to make sure that we could be involved in this and help provide a safe and fun setting for children to just be kids and have a shared experience with kids like them, who are going through one of the hardest things in their lives,” Fortier-Brown said.
Camp Kesem chapters are run by dedicated college students across the country. In addition to running the camp over the summer, students spend the school year organizing all aspects of the camp, including marketing, recruitment, training, fundraising and event production.
“Starting this chapter requires a lot of work from our leadership team,” Fortier-Brown said. “We have a national organization behind us, putting each officer through a training so that they are prepared. Being a new organization, we also need to recruit great talent on campus, and so far we have been lucky to do so.”
Of the 4,500 college students involved, 80 percent of Camp Kesem’s counselors have been impacted by cancer. However, a desire to create a network of support for these children is the greater motivation for participation.
“I definitely recommend that students get involved!” Fortier-Brown said in an email, “This is a great way to gain a leadership position on campus, and as a first year organization, grow the group and shape our particular chapter’s traditions and character.”
To find out how you can get involved with Camp Kesem, like and contact them through their Facebook page “Camp Kesem at University of Maine,” email them at firstname.lastname@example.org, or text 207-215-5374 for more information.