Every August, a group of MIT student counselors and young campers make their way into the mountains of New Hampshire for a fun-filled week of summer camp. But Camp Kesem—kesem is Hebrew for “magic”—stands out among the rest. It’s the only camp in the nation dedicated to supporting children whose parents have or have battled cancer. With such a moving mission, it’s no wonder the MIT students involved consider Camp Kesem to be one of the most important facets of their college career. “We’re all there to support each other and have that love, no matter what the kids have gone through in the past,” said Lily “Noodles” Zhang ‘17, co-director. “I think that’s also what makes our community so unique and special.”
MIT’s chapter of Camp Kesem is among the oldest in the nation, entering its eleventh year this summer. Campers, who range from ages six to sixteen, attend free of charge, funded entirely by donations collected throughout the year. In order to make this year’s camp program the biggest yet, Camp Kesem aims to send 200 children and counselors to camp—far more than the thirty-one campers and counselors who attended in their inaugural year. Their most prominent fundraising event is the annual Make the Magic Gala, held this year on March 23. Because of their camp attendance goal for 2017, this year’s gala was the most large-scale gala they’ve held, moving into the spacious venue of the MIT Media Lab’s sixth floor. Fueled by hors d’oeuvres and beverages, a mix of guests including campers and their families, camp counselors, and donors mingled before enjoying a seated banquet dinner.
The gala featured two prominent guest speakers, both of whom are members of the MIT community. Corrie Painter, PhD., an associate director of operations and scientific outreach at the Broad Institute, spoke first. A survivor of angiosarcoma and a crucial pioneer in research of the disease, Painter herself has sent her two daughters to the MIT chapter of Camp Kesem for the past two years. “The things that matter are the private moments with my family, with my kids, and the memories I’ve been able to have with them as a result of Camp Kesem,” she said before elaborating on her daughters’ very first experience at camp and their reluctance to go home after such a memorable week.
Make the Magic’s second speaker, Cole Legg ‘20—known to campers and counselors by his camp name “Zay”—went to Camp Kesem for six summers with his two brothers, “YD” and “Leggo.” His experience at camp greatly shaped his life as he dealt with his mother’s cancer, and he cited “Empowerment”—a camp tradition of sharing personal experiences with parents' cancer—as a crucial factor in forming the family atmosphere of Camp Kesem. “I don’t think it is possible for me to sum [it] up any better than YD did when he spoke at Make the Magic as a camper three years ago,” Legg explained. “He said, ‘Even though the people may change, the magic stays the same.’”
Following the speaker portion of the event, the group held a paddle raise, in which donors were invited to contribute in three tiers of pledges. In less than thirty minutes, Make the Magic raised nearly $45,000—over 30 percent of their fundraising goal for the year, and far exceeding their goal for the night. “I can’t even begin to express how thankful we are for everyone who attended to support us, and all the love that everyone showed,” said Zhang. All contributions, made possible through Make the Magic as well as several other fundraising efforts conducted throughout the year, will fund two weeks of Camp Kesem this August.
“To see all the kids and counselors support one another and grow from these experiences is. . .like the highlight of my year,” said Matt “Buzz” Wu ‘19, Make the Magic coordinator. “It’s the reason that I keep coming back, it’s the reason I keep looking to do more for this organization, because it’s an intangible thing that really isn’t found anywhere else.”
Written by Isabella Dionne, video by Stephanie Tran.
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