Camp Kesem USC
The lake sparkles in the sunlight. Mountains loom on the horizon. Pigs and horses lounge in the heat while kids scramble across a ropes course and shoot hay bales with arrows. But this typical summer-camp scene has another layer that isn't so typical, nor obvious at a glance: a level of understanding and support. At Camp Kesem USC—one of 41 Camp Kesem chapters across the country—all the kids in attendance have a parent who has been diagnosed with cancer. These students spend a week escaping the everyday stresses at home, participating in arts and crafts, canoeing, hiking, songs, and even "Cabin Chats" where they have free rein to talk anything they want to with their peers and counselors. A therapist stays on hand to help the campers throughout the week—but only if they need it. The camp focuses on distracting the kids from their issues, never forcing them to discuss their home lives.
The USC Camp Kesem chapter formed under the guidance of two University of Southern California students, Amanda and Atineh. Amanda noted that one camper in particular inspired her: a five-year-old boy who is afraid his father will pass away while he's at school. But “he keeps going every day,” she said. To help him and others like him take a break from these fears, Camp Kesem USC aims to let kids be kids—an ideal exemplified in everything from the camp’s mascot, Karl the Caterpillar, to the quirky nicknames each counselor and camper adopt.
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