Camp Kesem’s 2nd annual 5k on horizon

Camp Kesem, a camp for children with a parent who has or has had cancer, is hosting its second annual 5k on April 4.

The 5k will be held at the University Arboretum. Melissa Reeks, sophomore in LAS and a camp counselor, said the organizers are expecting 100-150 people, an increase from last year’s 50-75 people. She said this year should be a little more organized, as the race was off-campus and the trail unmarked last year.

Camp Kesem is free of charge in order to provide some kind of financial relief to families struggling with medical costs. The organization stresses that Camp Kesem provides emotional, but not therapeutic, support.

According to Anu Puppala, senior in LAS and the administrative and camp programming director, the camp typically needs about $20,000 to $30,000 a year and is run entirely off donations. In order to raise money, fundraisers are held throughout the year.

In addition to the 5k, Camp Kesem holds letter-writing parties, chalks the Quad and sells candy, Puppala said.

“Cancer can drain a family’s resources,” Puppala said. “Sometimes one parent isn’t working and they are dealing with medical care costs.”

The organization reaches out to families in the local community by contacting local hospitals and support groups, but the biggest method is word of mouth, Puppala said.

Rachel Carlson, senior in Media and co-chair of the organization, said Camp Kesem at Illinois started off small in 2007 with only seven campers, but grew to 30 campers last year.

“This year we’re hoping to reach 45,” Carlson said.

Carlson said the counselors try not to focus on the cancer. Instead, camp is a chance for the kids to have fun.

“Our activities are not any different than what you’d do at any other camp,” she said.

Carlson said the camp also has themed events, like a carnival day and color wars, and the kids look forward to camp all year,

It isn’t just about the children, either. Camp provides a break for the parents.

“It’s like having a baby sitter for the week,” Carlson said, adding that it gives parents a chance to grieve without their kids around or celebrate remission with a nice night out.

Carlson, who has been involved with Camp Kesem since it began, says that it has had a huge influence on her life. She and other counselors share a passion for making a difference in kids’ lives.

“These counselors are the kids’ heroes,” she said.