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Cal Poly club creates week-long camp and support community for children with a parent battling cancer 

Kevin Allenstein remembers the first camp session that he put together with other students as new members of the Cal Poly San Luis Obispo Chapter of Camp Kesem.

His position in the chapter was camp counselor, and he also had the duty of planning daily activities for the campers.

The lineup was the usual games and outdoor activities that take place at any summer camp: rock climbing, arts and crafts, ziplining, and capture the flag.

click to enlarge SUMMER FUN Camp Kesem not only provides its campers with a supportive community but also a normal setting where kids can have fun. - PHOTO COURTESY OF CAMP KESEM AT CAL POLY SAN LUIS OBISPO
  • Photo Courtesy Of Camp Kesem At Cal Poly San Luis Obispo
  • SUMMER FUN Camp Kesem not only provides its campers with a supportive community but also a normal setting where kids can have fun.

"When I explain it [Camp Kesem] to people who have never heard of it they kind of think of it as sad, like the kids are going to camp because of this thing the parent has," Allenstein said.

The thing that Allenstein is referring to is cancer. Camp Kesem is a unique camp for children who have a parent who has been diagnosed with cancer, is in remission, or has died of the disease. When talking about Camp Kesem, he explains it as any other camp where a child can have fun with other kids their own age. It's unique in the sense that the camp creates a support system made up of other children going through the same situation and a team of camp leaders and counselors.

Camp Kesem was founded at Stanford University in 2000. It's a nationwide community run by college students with the goal of supporting children through and beyond their parent's cancer. Since its establishment, Camp Kesem has expanded to more than 100 chapters in 40 states across the country.

"It's not just the one week of free summer camp that we provide, but it's also the year round support we give them through different events that we hold throughout the year," Allenstein said.

In order for a university to establish a chapter on campus, students must enter their university in a poll. Students have to campaign in order to be chosen; in 2016, Cal Poly was chosen to establish its chapter. The following year was the first time that the chapter held its summer camp.

"These kids all come to camp, and they know that there is something underlying that is connecting them together. To see them interact and form those bonds because of that connection is really awesome," he said.

Rhia Alger, a third year biology major, said the camp really provides a support for an underrepresented demographic of the community.

"It's not this special type of camp for just someone who is sick; it's these kids that just want to have that normal fun experience," Alger said. What makes the Cal Poly chapter of the camp unique compared to the other university chapters is that the group of counselors and the number of campers is smaller. She said while other universities have two week-long camp sessions and hundreds of counselors, the Cal Poly chapter has a board of about 15 students, 20 counselors, and so far 35 campers.

If a family cannot afford a sleeping bag or the expenses of traveling to the campsite, Alger said the chapter will connect families with resources and figure out how they can help.

Alger said the Cal Poly chapter is seeking a mental health professional and nurse to join their team—both are on site during the camping experience. She said the chapter is also looking for donations such as camping supplies that can be found on their Amazon wish list under the name "Camp Kesem Wish List."

Camp Kesem at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo is still accepting online applications for its free summer camp. It will be held July 6 through 11 at Camp Whittier in Santa Barbara. To learn more about the camp or the local chapter, visit campkesem.org/cal-poly.

Fast fact

The San Luis Obispo County YMCA recently received a generous donation of $5,000 from Rabobank, N.A., to support the Y's summer camp programs. Rabobank's gift will help ensure that no child is turned away from a YMCA Summer Camp due to an inability to pay. For more information about the Y and programs offered throughout the year, visit sloymca.org. Δ

Staff Writer Karen Garcia wrote this week's Strokes and Plugs. Send tidbits to strokes@newtimesslo.com.

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