Camp Kesem is a free, week-long sleep-away camp for children ages 6 to 16 whose parents have battled cancer in any way past or present.
The camp will be in Ketchum, Idaho from Aug. 10 to 15 at Luther Heights Camp and will have a variety of activities and guest speakers.
Darren Gealta, a senior studying exercise physiology, said that this is a great opportunity for children to be children and forget for five days that one of their parents is sick.
Gealta said he is the founding director of the Camp Kesem chapter at BYU-Idaho, and he helped bring the organization to Rexburg, which will allow students to volunteer and offer meaningful service.
“We want to let faculty and administration know that this is available to their families,” Gealta said. “We also want to reach out to the community, as deep as possible, so they know this is available to them as well.”
Gealta said that on the Hero Day during the Empowerment Ceremony, kids share their feelings about their ill parent, and they have the opportunity to listen to people from the military, law enforcement, fire fighters and doctors who also had a parent with cancer.
“We’re going to have a magic show and a concert so they can have fun,” Gealta said. “We also want to provide a care-free opportunity to be a kid and make friends who are in the same situation.”
The idea to provide a fun environment for children and volunteering opportunities for college students started 14 years ago at Stanford University, according to Camp Kesem’s website.
Today there are 54 chapters in 27 states. Camp Kesem at BYU-I was selected as a new chapter, among 11 other new chapters, in 2013.
“I needed opportunities to serve in the community and gain leadership experience,” Gealta said. “It took me two years to get our region selected, and now we’ll be a permanent chapter.”
Camp Kesem at BYU-I received $10,000 as a start from the National Camp Kesem organization after it was selected Community Impact Project in 2011 by the Livestrong Cancer Foundation.
“The registration for the camp started in February,” said Rylen Stratford, a senior studying neurobiology and the public relations coordinator for Camp Kesem at BYU-I. “We are expecting to have 45 campers for the first year.”
Stratford said that if a family has been impacted by cancer has multiple children, then all of the children may attend.
Besides celebrities and large organizations like Livestrong, Camp Kesem has nationally partnered with three NFL athletes — EJ Manuel of the Buffalo Bills, Aldon Smith of the San Francisco 49ers and Tyler Polumbus of the Washington Redskins — to generate greater awareness of and sport for the program, according to Camp Kesem’s website.
The chapter at BYU-I has 126 volunteers. These are all students seeking internships and volunteering opportunities.
“Those in the medical field are required to do community service. Therefore, this is a great résumé building experience,” Gealta said.
“Several students are getting credit for their internship requirement at BYU-Idaho by volunteering at Camp Kesem.”
Stratford said that after the camp is over, there are two more meetings throughout the year to have the kids reunite with the friends they made.