William & Mary

A Place for Magic

  • A Magical Summer
    A Magical Summer  The magical moments that take place during the week make for a lifetime magical memories.  Photo courtesy of Camp Kesem W&M
  • Counselor Sundae
    Counselor Sundae  Campers turn their favorite counselors into their favorite desserts on counselor Sundays.  Photo courtesy of Camp Kesem W&M
  • Summer Tradition
    Summer Tradition  W&M Camp Kesem keeps the favorite summer camp tradition of roasting marshmallows alive.  Photo courtesy of Camp Kesem W&M
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They may not have wands or spells, but William & Mary students make magic happen every summer through Camp Kesem.

Camp Kesem – literally ‘magic’ in Hebrew – is a national organization run by college students that hosts free summer camps for children whose parents have been diagnosed with cancer. The camp gives the children the magical opportunity to toss their worries aside, relieve stress, create lasting bonds and unforgettable memories.

Although the camp is designed for kids whose parents have cancer, it is hardly the focus of the program. The main priority is to give them a week where they can be a kid again.

In fact, Camp Kesem operates just like any other summer camp. Campers ranging in age from 6 to 16 participate in the usual camp activities including canoeing, archery, arts and crafts, games and singing good old-fashioned camp songs. However, the support of the counselors and newfound friends are what the student directors believe make Camp Kesem special because they can relate to one another in a different way than their classmates.

“It’s serving a group of people that are often overlooked, and I’m just lucky to be able to help them,” said the camp’s co-director Casey Douma.

The national organization was founded at Stanford University in 2000 and has grown to include more than 80 chapters across the country. The W&M chapter of Camp Kesem was founded after student leaders applied for a $10,000 LIVESTRONG grant and hosted 30 campers. Now the camp has grown to accommodate more than 80 campers.

The W&M camp counselors set an annual goal for the number of campers they’d like to accommodate each year. Probably the largest fundraiser they participle in is Giving Tuesday right after Thanksgiving, during which the counselors leverage their relationships with friends and family through social media.

Not only is Camp Kesem funded by the efforts of W&M students, but it is entirely organized and operated by them. Each year, the students provide support and an outlet to the campers who face the difficult reality of their parents’ diagnosis.

Though the students work their hardest to make the camp special for the kids, they say the experience is a pretty magical one for them as well.