Camp Kesem Chestnut Hill Gives Children of Cancer Patients the Chance to be Kids

by Natalie Yuhas


The word “kesem” means “magic” in Hebrew, and that is exactly what Camp Kesem aims to give to children who have parents affected by cancer.


There are 1.7 million cases of cancer each year in the United States, which means there are more than 3 million kids who are affected by a parent’s cancer.  These kids often suffer quietly, which can lead to academic, social, emotional, and developmental problems.  Established in 2001 by Iris Rave, a Stanford University student at the time, Camp Kesem is a nationwide, nonprofit community of college leaders who help kids who have a parent with cancer just be kids. Campers, ages six to sixteen, experience a week at sleep away camp, which is full of fun activities such as sports, arts and crafts, and drama. Along with these activities, kids get the opportunity to share their experiences in “Cabin Chats” with their counselors and fellow campers.  Camp Kesem does not provide therapy for kids, but instead focuses on having fun and supporting them. Because of the financial burden on families with a cancer patient, Camp Kesem is completely free for campers.

The Camp Kesem program has been steadily growing since its start in 2001, and there are now a total of 62 chapters nationwide.  This year, a group of Boston College students created a chapter in Chestnut Hill.  Camp Kesem Chestnut Hill provides yearlong support for children who have a parent with cancer in the Greater Boston area, as well as the weeklong summer camp experience.  There are 19 college student volunteers, and in summer 2015, they plan on having 30 campers. 


Rachael O’Keefe, Connell School of Nursing ’16, says that she participates in Camp Kesem Chestnut Hill because of her Aunt Diane.  At the age of 33, her Aunt Di passed away due to breast cancer, leaving behind two young children, ages one and four. “My cousins needed the support and community Camp Kesem provides,” says O’Keefe, “I want to make sure that any child who has a parent suffering from cancer knows that they have people they can turn to who understand where they are coming from.”


Because the week is free for campers, donations are vital to the program.  Camp Kesem Chestnut Hill has already had two fundraisers this semester, including a night at Applebee’s where a percentage of the check went to Camp Kesem. The next fundraiser is the Camp Kesem Yankee Candle Drive, which is going on now until December 31.  If you buy a candle through Camp Kesem (, 40% of the profit will go to the camp.  When purchasing a candle, enter Group Number 990074587 in the orange box towards the bottom right of the page.


For more information about Camp Kesem, please email Rachael O’Keefe and Will Lambert at or visit:



To donate to Camp Kesem Chestnut Hill, please visit:

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