NORMAN — Here, worry takes a backseat, and laughter forms a melodious tune. Here, children can forget the foreign cancer vocabulary, treatment and fear that they are still trying to understand. And here, difficult life experience morphs into emotional understanding and compassion as children realize they are not alone.
The University of Oklahoma chapter of Camp Kesem directors said they hope campers at the week-long, free summer camp embrace being a kid and let go of the weight on their shoulders.
Camp Kesem is a camp for children whose parents have or had cancer. When a parent is diagnosed with cancer, the whole family is affected and Camp Kesem attempts to provide support to children so that no child has to face his or her parent’s cancer alone.
The camp began in 2000 and now has 54 chapters across the U.S. This network of free summer camps is run by college students and is for children ages 6 to 16. Camp Kesem representatives said the camp is a place where magic happens and where kids can be free.
This year’s camp will be from July 6-11 at the Central Christian Camp and Conference Center in Guthrie and is themed CK Olympics. The camp plans on welcoming back its original eight campers while growing to 30 total campers with about 15 counselors. The camp is open to children across the state of Oklahoma.
Ekene Ezenwa, Camp Kesem OU co-director, said OU students do everything to put the camp together including fundraising, public relations, planning camp activities and serving as camp counselors.
“Last year was our first, so it was a lot of work, but it was so nice to see all of that hard work pay off,” Ezenwa said.
During the camp, kids are able to be themselves and not think about the stress at home, Ezenwa said.
“Our camp is about kids being kids. They can swim, participate in archery, paintball, hiking, leadership activities and more,” she said.
Campers also participate in an empowerment ceremony where they have the chance to share their experience with cancer, and counselors and campers talk about what they learned from camp. Ezenwa said that over the course of last year’s camp, she could see campers open up and become a support system.
“The little things help them bond like walking to their cabins together, singing chants and giving themselves a special name just for camp ... By the end of the week, the kids became a second family,” she said. “They have each other to understand and connect with.”
To raise funds for the OU chapter of Camp Kesem, OU students have been busy writing letters to previous donors and updating the online donation page. Camp directors also plan to host a silent auction, “Make the Magic,” on May 16 to raise funds for the camp. The fundraiser will be from 6 to 8:30 p.m. at Norman North High School in the multipurpose room
Camp Kesem representatives reported that 98 percent of parents believe Camp Kesem has a positive impact on their families and 99 percent of families would recommend Camp Kesem to other families affected by cancer. Kayla Tur’s son and daughter, Avery and Zane Tur, both went to Camp Kesem last year. Tur said when she signed her kids up for camp, they were nervous, but by the end of the week they didn’t even acknowledge that she was there to take them home.
“They were having such a good time, they didn’t want to leave,” she said. “They did get really close to the other campers, and we’re anxious to see who will return to camp this year.”
Camp Kesem OU is accepting camper applications. To fill out an application, visit camp
kesem.org and click on the green “Camper and Counselor Applications” in the top right corner. To donate to the camp, visit camp-kesem.givebig.org. For more information about Camp Kesem OU, visit campkesem.org/
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