2018-01-02 / Shorts

Helping Kids be Kids

Camp Kesem gives children whose parents have been affected by cancer a place to be themselves.
Samantha Lauriello


Seeing the effects of cancer on the life of a loved one is never easy, especially if that loved one is your parent. Camp Kesem provides children who have watched a parent battle cancer with a place to be their authentic selves for a week during the summer.

“It completely changed my life,” says Alexa Mellon, a former camper and current co-director of Camp Kesem Central PA. “It just teaches you how to open up, be vulnerable and have fun.”

Mellon says children who have a parent affected by cancer are forced to grow up faster than others, which is why she’s one of around 130 students at Penn State who volunteer their time to raise money to send these children to camp for free. The camp is held for a week during the summer in Thompson, Pennsylvania, and is run and funded by college students who work year-round to make it happen.

Through camp Olympics, craft making, emotional programs and more, the weeklong camp shows children how to be themselves. Mellon says the Central PA chapter hopes to welcome over 100 campers this summer.

Whether their parent is newly diagnosed, a cancer survivor or lost their battle to the disease, all children ages 6 to 18 are welcome to fill out an application, which are available starting Jan. 15 on the Camp Kesem Central PA website.

“When you’re that age and you have a parent with cancer, your friends aren’t going to understand,” Mellon says. “At camp they’re surrounded by kids their age who understand and they can talk to.”

Throughout the school year, two reunions are held for children to spend time with both their camp friends and counselors, helping them stay connected to the student volunteers they form relationships with during the summer.

“The volunteers don’t just meet the kids, they really get to know them,” Mellon says. “They become real friends.”

Mellon’s journey with Camp Kesem began when she was a camper at age 17, and every year since she’s watched the program expand, raising enough money to accept more campers and touch more lives.

“Watching my campers grow and form lifelong relationships like I did when I was a camper is just really phenomenal,” Mellon says. •SCM


2000 - Year the first camp was held
4,500 - Number of college student leaders involved
105 - Kesem chapters in U.S.
40 - number of states with a Camp Kesem
7,300 - Children served at Camp Kesem in 2017
5 million+ - Number of children impacted by a parent’s cancer
$0 - Cost to campers
89% - Amount of campers who opt to return the following year
3:1 - Camper to counselor ratio

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