“Make the Magic”: To Be a Kid Again

Saturday night I had the amazing opportunity to attend a fundraising event called “Make the Magic” for Camp Kesem, one of Illini 4000′s major beneficiaries (i.e. who we donate to). I had never been to a fundraising gala event like this and was excited to have the opportunity to dress up and wear my high heels, all for a good cause of course. When I went to the event though, I knew it wasn’t about the dress I chose to wear, the heals I put on, my makeup or my hair. It was about the “forgotten” population that is impacted by cancer: the children of parents who have a cancer diagnosis. There are support groups for patients and for spouses, but what about the kids? Through the stories of counselors and parents, I learned that kids who are in this situation have to grow up fast. They have to grow up faster than their peers. Maybe they ask questions like, “Is Mom/Dad going to die?” I can’t imagine going through the experience at a young age.

Camp Kesem is a national organization in which college students fundraise and organize camps for local/regional kids who have a parent or parents who haveĀ  or have had cancer. The organization began in 2000 at Stanford University and have since grown substantially to have several collegiate-lead camping experiences.

During the night, we heard from some pretty remarkable people, including Ashley Young (Illini 4000′s Team Development Director), Luna (a Camp Kesem Counselor) and Mrs. Emmerd (a camper parent & cancer survivor- yay!). Ashley spoke about Illini 4000′s commitment to Camp Kesem through our annual donation that comes from our fundraising. She also mentioned that Camp Kesem Illinois and Illini 4000 were founded just a year apart, so the organizations have been pretty close (it was fate). Luna spoke about her experience going from a shy, lost student on the huge campus of U of I to finding a group that genuinely cared about her and her success. She also spoke about some of the relationships she has formed with campers and the unspeakable bond that forms as a result of an awesome week of everyone (counselors included) being a kid again.

Then Mrs. Emmerd spoke. She has 4 children whose ages at the time of her cancer diagnosis were 2-10 (about? I did not write it down…). One of the first things she mentioned was that, “cancer is expensive”. True fact. According to NPR, cancer patients are 2.68x more likely to declare bankruptcy. Even in remission, though, health care costs go up as your insurance rate has undoubtedly increased. Vacations were just not something that the family could prioritize high on their list of expenses. When Mrs. Emmerd came across a flyer for a free camp for kids whose parents had cancer, she was intrigued by the idea. She hesitantly dropped off 2 of her 4 kids at Camp Kesem Illinois the first year the camp started, where they joined 6 other kids and 24 counselors. When she picked up her kids at the end of camp, which happened to be the hottest week of the year and the kids slept outside, it was all smiles. There were no complaints of the heat or having to use an outhouse, but instead happiness that hadn’t necessarily been present as much at home. All four of her kids have gone/are going to Camp Kesem Illinois and it has been just an amazing experience that has had a huge impact on the family. You should have seen them all. The felt so strongly about the experience they had at camp, that it had helped them develop as a kid to have people not look at you funny because your parent is sick.

But let me tell you, this is a small, but growing organization. Typically Camp Kesem Illinois has about 60 campers during 1 week and this year, they will be having 2 weeks of camp to accommodate about 120 campers. Sometimes it is hard to give money to an organization when you don’t exactly know where the money goes to. With Illini 4000, the money we raise goes to several organizations (see the FAQ’s for a breakdown). Going to this event just made me so excited to raise as much money for I4K as possible because of the direct impact that money that is donated to has on the lives of even the “forgotten” cancer-impacted populations. Let me tell you, kids are no longer forgotten because of organizations like this. So, with that, back to another week closer to reaching our team fundraising goal of $150,000! We are OVER halfway there.


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