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Camp Kesem makes a difference

| Wednesday, December 3, 2014

When I told my mom I was doing something called Camp Kesem at Notre Dame, she was a little confused. She had never heard of such an organization, and while the idea was a good one, it seemed a little unrealistic for a college student with a full-time summer job to spend his one week off with a bunch of kids. In short, why should I spend so much time away from my classes and job for something so idealistic?

Allow me to explain: Camp Kesem is a week-long summer camp for children affected by a parent’s cancer. We take local kids ranging in ages from 6-16 to YMCA Camp Storer in Jackson, Michigan for a week of classic summer camp activities and bonding, including kayaking, capture-the-flag and campfires. Camp Kesem Notre Dame is one of 62 college chapters across the country that provides life-changing experiences for thousands of kids each year. We give them the chance to just be kids for once, instead of worrying about their mother’s latest chemo treatment or how they’ll answer awkward questions at school. Kesem is magic for the kids and counselors alike and embodies something that can’t be easily captured in words. To quote former Irish head coach Lou Holtz, “If you’ve been there, no explanation is necessary.  If you haven’t, none is adequate.”

At Notre Dame, we pride ourselves for being more than just a university. Character and service follow hand-in-hand with academic and athletic excellence. As Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, said in his 2013 commencement address, “Notre Dame is about not just a career but a call, not just what we’ve gotten but what we’re giving … not just the ‘I’ but the ‘we.'”

We are taught not only to eye the bottom line, but to always envision loftier goals, to set the world on fire. A sense of purpose pervades our time here; our educations are not just of the mind but also of the heart and soul.

To put it simply, during my three and a half years here, I have not found something more Notre Dame than Camp Kesem. Kesem is about bringing people together and empowering each other with shared experiences and love. Like Notre Dame, Kesem challenges us to live for more than just ourselves and reminds us of the life-altering power of love, of entering into relationships with each other. No other time at camp exemplifies this better than our Empowerment Ceremony, the one time during the week when we discuss why we are all there: cancer. I do not exaggerate when I say that the high point of my life was when a nine-year-old, with tears in his eyes, told me that while he may have lost his dad, he had found a family at camp.

Despite the convergence of our missions, Camp Kesem is still, for the most part, unknown on campus. Ask any 10 people on South Quad if they’ve heard about Camp Kesem and maybe two have, describing it as “that thing my friend does with all the weird songs and nicknames.” During the year, our student volunteers plan fundraisers constantly, making us one of the most active clubs on campus so that we can ensure our camp remains 100 percent free for our campers and their families. If we achieve our goal of raising $72,000 this year, we will be able to serve more than 80 kids this year, not only at camp but also by providing support all year at their soccer games, reunions and all too often, funerals.

Our goal is to bridge that gap, to bring together the amazing children Kesem serves and the extraordinary students Notre Dame cultivates. As we grow our program, we need more money and counselors. We are having our monthly all-camp meeting tonight (Wednesday, Dec. 3) in 129 DeBartolo Hall at 8 p.m. Come and see for yourselves what Camp Kesem is all about. All are welcome.

To answer my mother’s question today, I would say that I Kesem for the same reason the rest of us do: purpose. In the abstract midst of job searches, paper deadlines and an unending pile of reading, Camp Kesem allows us to make a tangible difference in the world. Kesem provides us with a renewed sense of fulfillment that corresponds perfectly with Notre Dame’s mission. Remember, if you change a life you change the world, and we have 80 amazing kids this year.

Do it for the kids.

John Groden



Dec. 2

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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