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Strength in 'magic': Camp Kesem, a haven for kids with parents impacted by cancer, comes to UC

Camp Campbell Gard to host inaugural gathering
Strength in 'magic': Camp Kesem, a haven for kids with parents impacted by cancer, comes to UC
Posted at 12:00 PM, Feb 20, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-20 12:00:26-05

CINCINNATI -- When Kristen Kiselle was diagnosed with cancer in 2009, she and her husband Kirt Kiselle worried about how it would affect their children, then 10, 8 and 6 years old.

To help them adjust to the diagnosis, the pair sent then to Camp Kesem, a free summer camp program for children who have been touched by a parent's cancer. The weeklong camp, hosted by Indiana University, offered children from across the country a chance to bond with others dealing with similar situations. There, they learned they weren’t alone and that they could learn to deal with the changes that come with a cancer diagnosis.

Starting this summer, Tri-State children dealing with a parent’s cancer will have the same opportunity. A new Camp Kesem chapter has been started at the University of Cincinnati, and dozens of UC students are already hard at work preparing to help them on their journey.

UC’s camp this year will be held at Camp Campbell Gard from Aug. 6-11 and will be open to 30 campers.

Registration is now open.

Samantha Monahan, UC junior and camp co-director, is excited about the camp, which promises an "Around the World" theme and “a bunch of crazy fun stuff like live Mario Kart racing.”

“I personally know children who are coming up on the anniversary of their dad’s death. I see every kid as them and so I want our campers to have so much fun. I want to make sure that every kid has fun,” she said. “I’ve heard through other chapters that it’s an amazing experience and that the first year is just magical.”

UC freshman Arrianna Rucker, who experienced Camp Kesem firsthand and is thrilled to now be a part of the UC chapter, also calls the camp “magical.” In fact, Camp Kesem derives its name from the Hebrew word for magic.

"I first got involved with Kesem because a very good friend of mine in high school was deeply involved with it at OSU," Rucker said. "Her mom is still dealing with stage 3 breast cancer, and she thought I would get a lot out of it with also having a mother that dealt with cancer for a long time.

"Within the first two days of camp I was completely hooked on everything about Kesem and all that it stands for. I was told Kesem was a magical place, and they were not kidding. I knew it was something that I couldn't be a part of for just one summer. While at camp I happened to find out that UC would be getting a Kesem chapter the following school year, which was amazing.”

As an outreach coordinator for the UC chapter, Rucker is heavily involved in recruiting campers and communicating with families.

“Kesem has been one of the best things to walk into my life and I plan to stay involved in any way I can for as long as I can," she said.

Ongoing involvement from campers and families has played a pivotal role in the camp’s expansion since its founding in 2,000, including the creation of the Cincinnati chapter.

Kristen recovered from her cancer, but Camp Kesem has continued to be an important part of the family’s experiences. Each of the children has attended the camp every year through the IU chapter, making the switch from campers to junior counselors as they aged out of the program.

“My oldest is now a senior in high school and he started wondering what if he goes to a college that doesn’t have a Camp Kesem so I started looking at how to set one up,” said Kirt Kiselle.

What he learned is that for a camp to be approved, it has to have funding. He set to work on finding financial backing, a task made somewhat easier through his role as a vice president for US Bank. With a $40,000 grant secured from a charitable foundation, Kiselle started gathering supporters, including chapter adviser Margaret Reed.

Students are hoping to raise an additional $30,000 this year to cover all camp expenses. The initial grant funding is meant to help meet any shortfalls during the chapter’s first three years.

Students are planning a variety of fundraising events, including Pure Barre pop up classes, special events with Painting with a Twist and profit-share nights with local restaurants. A dinner and auction event is still in the planning stages.

Camp Kesem operates more than 70 free summer camps each year in 34 states. In 2016, Camp Kesem served more than 6,000 children coast-to-coast -- all funded by donations from individuals and corporate support.