The image of College senior Eunice Lee’s mother practicing to walk towards her while suffering from spinal cancer is one that Lee said often inspires her.
Lee, whose mother died when she was 19 years old, shared this memory with 18 children and several counselors at an empowerment program at the first camp held by Camp Kesem Emory, a college-student run summer camp for children whose parents have or previously had cancer.
Campers and those counselors in similar situations spent the empowerment program recounting memories of their parents while they congregated around a waterfall. With each memory, campers and counselors blew a bubble in the direction of the waterfall, which was meant to serve as a place that would prevent those thoughts from being forgotten.
“All the kids were crying,” said Lee, co-chair, co-founder and administrative counselor for Emory’s chapter of Camp Kesem. “It was a really powerful moment even for the counselors.”
In addition to the empowerment program, campers participated in activities ranging from swimming to archery at the campsite in Toccoa, Ga.
Emory students have been working for the past two years to bring Camp Kesem to the campus.
This was the first Camp Kesem session held in Georgia, though there are several camps in the Southeast, including two camps run in Florida and one in North Carolina at Duke University.
Maya Rao (’09C), a Camp Kesem Emory counselor who helped recruit and train counselors, said, “The most rewarding part was being at the actual camp in August and seeing it all come together because we worked so hard for two years. Seeing the kids enjoy themselves and get a lot out of the camp was really rewarding.”
According to the national Camp Kesem organization’s mission statement, the week-long camp sessions, which take place throughout the United States, are meant to give children the opportunity to simply be kids, away from the stressful environment at home.
Since 2000, Camp Kesem has been coordinating camps with the belief that children of parents with cancer should be able to receive emotional support, but the camps are not designed to provide therapy for the children.
“Children in this situation are really missing out because they are often overshadowed by a sick parent and don’t really have time to be kids anymore,” Lee said.
Lee worked alongside College senior and Wheel
Editor in Chief Michelle Ye Hee Lee, co-founder and co-chair of Camp Kesem Emory, and 18 other Emory students who worked as counselors at Camp Kesem in Toccoa this year.
College junior Kim Schauder, a counselor who also worked as an administrative and camp programming coordinator, said it was helpful to have more counselors than campers in order to provide individualized attention.
The nationally-required Camp Kesem camper to counselor ratio is 2:1, but Schauder said because this was the first year Emory hosted the camp, there were more counselors than expected.
Schauder said she joined because she loves working with kids. Even so, she said it was an emotionally-challenging week at camp.
“It is important for us to be there for them and listen and be strong for them,” Schauder said.
Though there were emotional moments for Eunice during the camp session, she said she found the week to be empowering.
“You really forget about yourself when you are trying to help other people,” Eunice said. “It’s so hard for kids to grow up with a parent with cancer and still be a kid themself.”
Eunice said the group is planning next year’s Camp Kesem in Georgia, and wants to make it “bigger and better.” Specific plans for next summer are yet to be determined.
“We will always be there for each other,” Eunice said. “Even if a parent isn’t there anymore, their memory will always be there.”
— Contact Molly Davis