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Camp Kesem: Nonprofit Spotlight

Camp Kesem: Nonprofit Spotlight

January 11, 2024 by Giving Assistant Editorial Team

“We are so grateful for our partnership with Giving Assistant and their impactful support of children touched by a parent’s cancer. The need for Kesem’s services is far-reaching and touches every corner of our country.”-Jane Saccaro, CEO, Kesem

Giving Assistant members are providing relief to children—at the most vulnerable time of their lives—just by shopping online.

While every child experiences a parent’s cancer journey uniquely—regardless of if the parent survives or passes away, or is currently undergoing treatment—there are often common and significant side effects to children including isolation from peers, loss of social interest, negative academic performance, and taking on adult roles.

It’s hard enough managing math homework, navigating social circles, making the team, undergoing puberty, and experiencing everything else that comes with being a kid.

Now imagine being one of the over 5 million children that hear a parent utter the words, “I have cancer.”

These children often grapple with a mixed bag of emotions, require a unique support system, and need reassurance that they are not alone.

Enter Camp Kesem.

What is Camp Kesem?

Camp Kesem is an active community, driven by 5,000+ highly-trained and passionate student leaders from over 100 colleges and universities nationwide.

The Kesem “family” is the largest national nonprofit providing support to children through and beyond their parent’s cancer—providing them with access to fun-filled, life-changing experiences at summer camps—at no cost to families.

A child’s Kesem experience—while grounded in fun and the joy of childhood—helps address all of these consequences. Kesem provides children with by providing them a community of support with children who are just like them and exemplary role models in Kesem’s college student leaders. This experience results in improved self-esteem, enhanced coping skills, increased self-confidence, and stronger emotional intelligence.

Camp Kesem caters to youth ages 6-18, who:

  • have lost a parent (or guardian) to cancer
  • have a parent (or guardian) undergoing cancer treatment
  • have a parent (or guardian) that is a cancer survivor

Guardians include loved ones with primary or legal responsibility for a child (i.e., biological-, adoptive-, and foster parents, and grandparents and other relatives in clear parenting roles).

Applications open in January of each year and are handled on a first-come, first-served basis.

Campers can also return year after year until they age out of the program (after age 18).

Camp Kesem: Nonprofit Spotlight Image 1
A happy group of campers on a hike. Source: Camp Kesem


Every summer, Kesem holds over 90 weeks of summer camp in 38 states across the country.

The camps are staffed by 3,000+ highly-trained and passionate college student leaders from nearly 90 colleges and universities around the country.

These college students volunteer their time year-round to create, manage, and run the camp programs that accommodate children from age 6 to college students and young adults. The camps are 100% free of charge.

The founder of Camp Kesem is Iris Rave.

Iris developed the first Camp Kesem project at Stanford University in 2000 with the help of student leaders who sought to create healing experiences for what they identified as an under-served population in their community—children impacted by a parent’s cancer.

In June 2001, the Camp Kesem project at Stanford hosted its first summer session, at no cost to 37 campers. Based on its success, Iris brought the project’s model to other colleges and established “chapters” across the nation. In August 2002, Camp Kesem National was born.

Today, the nonprofit recruits and extensively trains student college leaders who volunteer their time year-round to create, manage, and run the Camp Kesem programs.

Each camp is staffed with nursing and mental health professionals, as well as an experienced Camp Advisor, all of whom undergo a comprehensive background check.

Camp Kesem continues to expand its reach each year and engage more student volunteers and children coast-to-coast. In 2019, the nonprofit boasted roughly 120 chapters in over 40 states with five brand-new chapters debuting in 2020, including Mississippi’s first.

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Camp Kesem brings together new groups of friends. Source: Camp Kesem

How to Apply

To date, Camp Kesem has received $17,230.75 from Giving Assistant shoppers, who have chosen to support the organization through their everyday shopping.

Contributions like this have helped Camp Kesem serve 6,100+ children during the 2016 camp season. Still, with long waiting lists at several camps, Kesem is making plans to serve 7,000 children in summer 2017.

Camp Kesem’s powerful impact stems from having a robust peer-based support network that truly shines through in their year-round programming and weeklong camps.

Kesem recruits and trains college student leaders who serve as exemplary role models to campers. These volunteers plan and execute Kesem programs, raise all funds to support their local chapter, as well as organize and manage Camp Kesem overnight camps in the summer.

Camp Kesem college chapters rent off-site, well-equipped camp facilities to host their weeklong getaways—complete with cabins, cafeterias, and activities.

Each camp is also staffed with nursing and mental health professionals, as well as an experienced Camp Advisor, all of whom undergo a comprehensive background check.

To register a child as a Camp Kesem camper, you must apply to an available camp or join the waitlist. Camp enrollment opens in January of each year, and applications are processed on a first-come, first-served basis.

#GiveKidsKesem & Change a Life from Camp Kesem on Vimeo.

Example: A Day at Camp Kesem

No two days are alike at Camp Kesem!

Kesem camp adventures typically last 5 nights and 6 days, offering plenty of opportunities for campers to let loose, try something new, and forge lasting connections.

A typical day at camp looks a little something like this:

  • Silly camp song-serenaded breakfasts are followed by morning rotations led by program counselors—expect fun like arts and crafts, zip-lining, rock-climbing, swimming, and themed nature explorations.
  • “Cabin Time” is available throughout the day; it’s a time to unwind, recharge, relax with bunkmates, craft, nap, or write letters home.
  • Lunchtime includes mealtime traditions unique to each Camp Kesem chapter.
  • Swimming plays a significant role; camps are equipped with a pool or lake, and sometimes both.
  • After dinner, campers gather for an all-camp activity: a skit, a talent show, a game of Capture the Flag, S’mores, movie night, or a fireworks show.

Camp Kesem creates a safe, supportive environment where children can feel comfortable enough to share their personal stories, hopes, and fears.

Forging partnerships with organizations like Camp Kesem is just one of the many ways Giving Assistant inspires consumers to use their everyday online purchases for the greater good.


“The donations we receive from Giving Assistant and their shoppers allows us to open new Camp Kesem chapters and support more children who can benefit from our services.” -Jane Saccaro, CEO, Kesem

Giving Assistant shoppers donate $49,000+ to Camp Kesem—a number that continues to grow.

With your contributions through Giving Assistant, you can help Camp Kesem’s community and impact grow even larger—and help support more children touched by a parent’s cancer.

To date, Giving Assistant shoppers—who have chosen to support the organization through their everyday shopping—have contributed over $49,419 to fund Camp Kesem projects.

This means Giving Assistant shoppers were also a part of the over $12 million raised by the Camp Kesem community in 2018—a record amount for the organization.

That was enough to fund 100 week-long summer camp sessions and free year-round programming and support services for nearly 9,000 children!

And now, every cash back contribution made to Camp Kesem through Giving Assistant helps the nonprofit reach its 2020 goals, such as increasing its service reach by 70% to serve 12,000 children annually and establishing 125 college chapters in 45 states.

Giving Assistant’s innovative cash back program empowers consumers with the freedom to save more, earn more, and give more.

Our system allows you to donate some (or all of your cash back earnings) to Camp Kesem, which ultimately moves more children from the waitlist to officially becoming a part of the Camp Kesem community.

How to Donate to Camp Kesem

To learn how to use Giving Assistant to easily donate a portion or all of your cash back to Camp Kesem, visit their fundraising page.

  1. Sign up for a Giving Assistant account.
  2. Select Camp Kesem in your Giving Assistant account settings menu.
  3. Indicate how much of your balance from cash-back rewards you’d like to donate.
  4. The next time you shop online using Giving Assistant, you’ll earn cash back on purchases that automatically donate (your set percentage) to Camp Kesem.

If you need more assistance, see how to use Giving Assistant to shop online and donate to a nonprofit at no cost to you here: how Giving Assistant works here.

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This button makes it easier to support the Camp Kesem nonprofit AND saves you money on everyday online purchases at thousands of online retailers.

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If you’d like to learn more about Camp Kesem and what they are achieving; visit Cam Kesem