A summer camp for a good cause is underway this week at Camp Bethel in Botetourt County.
Basketball is one of the many activities you might find at a summer camp. But at Camp Kesem, all of the kids on the court share a special bond.
Every camper has a parent who has battled cancer.
“It just seemed like a very welcoming environment, especially ’cause I was going through some kind of hard times in my life,” said Andrew Boehm, one of the campers. “I was kind of depressed at school.”
Boehm lost his mother to lung cancer when he was ten years old.
“Being among so many other people who have been through the same experiences, cried the same tears, just have lived through the same stuff – it’s definitely empowering,” he said.
“You don’t feel alone about it,” said Jailen Jones, another camper.
Jones lost his stepfather to cancer two years ago. He said next year, he plans to start training to become a camp counselor.
“New kids – I can tell them how fun it is ’cause I’ve had the experience of coming here for so many years and being happy every time,” Jones said.
Camp Kesem has chapters all over the country. This one, run by Virginia Commonwealth University students, is in its fourth year. According to organizers, the first year attracted 20 campers, and this summer, there are about 60 kids.
“A lot of these kids have a lot of responsibilities they have to take up because their parents are dealing with a lot of stuff that comes with that cancer, or maybe their parent is no longer there anymore,” said Jaylen Culp, marketing and public relations coordinator. “And so it’s giving them a chance to be kids again really.”
Several campers have attended before and stay in touch after camp is over, Culp said.
For Andrew Boehm, Camp Kesem has become a second family.
“For a newcomer, I would definitely say don’t be afraid,” Boehm said. “Everyone is open. Everyone is willing to listen to you. Everyone is supportive.”
Camp wraps up for the year on Saturday.
Camp Kesem is a non-profit organization, so all of the campers attend for free, and camp is funded by donations, Culp said. This year, camp counselors in this chapter raised $65,000, he added.