Camp Kesem is the only national not-for-profit organization servicing the children of cancer patients.
MIT’s chapter, the largest and oldest in New England, has 81 active volunteer student counselors serving 140 local children ages 6-18, providing year-round support including a free week-long summer camp.
“The camp is meant to give our campers a time to get away from the stressful environments in their homes and just be kids,” explained Carlos Torres ’16, counselor and co-development coordinator. “It is also meant to give parents a time to rest and recuperate from not having to take care of the children throughout the week of the camp.”
In bold letters, the Camp Kesem webpage posts, “Kesem (n.): magic; the ability to change a life; an agent of growth; the unique power that transforms kids into Camp Kesem Campers.” While Torres facilitated this magic as a counselor, it was he that felt transformed by a six year-old camper nicknamed Flounder.
Despite his fears that he might not be able to connect and comfort campers since he had never been directly touched by cancer, Torres nourished his relationship with Flounder through a love of the playground game tetherball. As they played together, Torres quietly listened as Flounder began to trust him and open up about his life experiences and struggles with his father’s cancer.
“Flounder is one of the key points that led to my decision to study medicine after graduating from MIT,” said Torres. “Through Flounder, I learned my greatest lesson of support and the positive impact that can come from helping others.”
Torres became involved in Camp Kesem through his big brother of his fraternity, Phi Beta Epsilon, one of the fraternities that boasts the most participants in Camp Kesem. “He spoke so passionately about how volunteering as a camp counselor changed his perspective on life and how close he became with the other student counselors,” recalled Torres. “I noticed that all the counselors were highly motivated and self-directed students how care deeply for their campers. To me back then, it seemed that the community of Camp Kesem MIT was like an extensive family who supported each other wholeheartedly, and from that moment, I knew I wanted to become a part of it.”
Torres joined this family as a camp counselor and found it even more rewarding as he initially anticipated. “I knew instantly after camp that I wanted to devote myself to the organization as much as I could.” Now after two years as serving as co-development coordinator, Torres and his team have raised over $100,000 each year in addition to working with Camp Kesem kids.
In the late fall and early spring the organization holds Krazy Kesem Weeks to raise awareness and attract potential volunteers. Last year, the group received over 120 applications from MIT students. While Camp Kesem aims to develop self-esteem, confidence, leadership, friendships, and communication skills of the campers, the counselors often join in experiencing this transformation.
To find out more and become involved visit http://campkesem.org/mit.