Camp Kesem Supports Families Affected by Cancer

Karen’s kids, Gregory, Morgan and Nathan, attended Camp Kesem through Notre Dame. Here they are posing with their favorite counselor,

“Kesem” in Hebrew means magic, a concept that is the inspiration behind the national organization that goes by the same name. It provides “magic” through week-long, overnight summer camps for children affected by a parent’s cancer. 


A CK empowerment ceremony

Kesem sponsors chapters at nearly 130 universities across the country and is managed by student leaders who are passionate about the Kesem mission. My three children first attended a Camp Kesem (CK) through the University of Notre Dame in 2013, just a month before their father passed away of stage 4 pancreatic cancer. The CK community has become an extended family and has remained my children’s favorite week of the year. Camp is FREE to the families, as the student leaders raise the funds throughout the year to cover the cost of camp.

New Camp Kesem chapter at The University of Toledo

When a family experiences cancer, it feels extremely isolating. It was through CK that my children finally found a place they could go and be surrounded by other kids, and some camp counselors, who knew exactly what they were going through. We describe CK as a “game changer” for my family. My oldest, Morgan, is now a senior at the University of Toledo and along with other students, launched a campaign to bring a Camp Kesem chapter to UToledo. Last summer they held their first camp virtually due to COVID. Nationals will decide soon if camps will be in person or virtual this summer.

“I know how hard my mom looked for support networks for me and my brothers when my dad was diagnosed, and in the years since, few resources for kids affected by a parent’s cancer have become available. I wanted to make it possible for kids in the Toledo area, kids

The author’s three kids pose with a group of CK camp counselors.

just like me, to be able to experience the magic of Camp Kesem and build a support network close to home”, said Morgan. She and her brother Gregory, a freshman at UToledo, will also be camp counselors this summer. 

Fun. Supportive. Positive. 

Camp Kesem is NOT a week spent talking about cancer, being sad, having counseling sessions, etc. Rather, it is a week filled with everything positive and doing normal summer camp activities, but doing so in an environment where people share your struggles. There are times during the week to share your experiences but only if you CHOOSE. Aru Goel, a senior and one of the CKUT directors said, “Our main goal is to create a support system for campers, counselors, and families who are going through or have gone through similar struggles. When we are with our campers, we want to help lift the burden they face with a parent affected by cancer.” 

Kaitlyn Huffman, a senior and Toledo native, learned of Camp Kesem from her cousin who was part of Camp Kesem Michigan State. She is currently the volunteer coordinator and looking forward to summer camp. “Seeing the kids we serve laugh, smile, and have a good time with us really solidifies the importance of Camp Kesem”, said Huffman. “It absolutely warms my heart to see the impact that Kesem has had on families in my community,” she added. 

How to get involved

Registration for camps will open in February. To be contacted when registration opens, submit this form. For additional information regarding CKUT, email Interested in volunteering or getting involved? Email Looking to help financially? Make a donation here. General information on Kesem National can be found at

Karen Zickes is the mother of three and freelance writer who resides in Holland, OH.