Good Night, Not Goodbye

“It’s good night, not goodbye.”
That’s what the campers and counselors sing together every night and every week of Camp Kesem.

Camp Kesem is a summer camp for kids whose parents are affected by cancer. Every battle imaginable is represented at this camp. Their parent may have passed, be in remission, or undergoing chemotherapy or even have beat cancer altogether. Every battle imaginable is represented at this camp. With funds raised solely by the college counselors, Camp Kesem is an all-inclusive free one-week summer camp. Not only does it allow campers a chance to be a kid again, but it connects campers with friendships and families fighting the same battles.

In Hebrew, Kesem means magic. And that’s exactly what this week is: magic.

A Week in the Life at Camp Kesem

On the drive to camp at Flat Rock YMCA, families pass miles of corn fields and bounce along dirt roads, but when the car stops, screaming college students full of excitement, energy and love appear.

After registration, campers are led to their yurts where they will spend the next week with their soon-to-be best friends. Together, the yurt-groups create a set of rules to follow. Then, they dress into their swim suits and all jump in the pool.

After dinner, counselors surprised the campers with songs and a magic show. Then, it’s time for s’mores and a campfire. The following days run through a rotation. Day Two gave campers the adventure of rope courses, zip-lining, bubble soccer, crafts and more. And, that’s just the morning! The afternoon consists of team bonding through tug-of-war, kick ball and card games. After dinner is cabin bonding.

Nightly “Cabin Chat” is welcome and encouraged. It’s a time where, through the guidance of counselors, each yurt discusses topics which topics are important to the campers. The first day begins with holidays, meals, etc. The final days consist of memories, loved ones and hope.

Then Fourth of July rolls around, and counselors make Camp Kesem even more magical. The alpine tower, gaga ball and nine-square open up for the campers to enjoy. Lunch rolls around and so do birthday celebrations. With food in their stomachs, the campers change into their suits to jump, dive and splash away the heat in the pool. Wet footsteps then stampede through the mess hall for some after-dinner water war activities. The night concludes with fireworks and glow sticks.

Day Four might be the most important day of camp. Kesem hosts an event called Empowerment. After the rope swing, banner painting and extra sweets, everyone gathers in the empty mess hall with pillows and Kleenex. Collectively, yet privately, anyone and everyone can share their stories and their families’ battle with cancer: “why they Kesem.”

With tears, hugging and love, a roll of yarn is passed around the circle. Each camper and counselor wraps the yarn around their wrist to symbolize how Kesem is always with you, always connected, and will always interlace. A dance party, ice cream sandwiches and sparklers are lit to conclude Empowerment.

As Day Fives’s sun rises, campers awake to take on the Flat Rock River—via relaxing inner tubes. Campers float down the river together before zooming into the lake on a giant slide or rope swing. After goofing off in the water, the messy games begin.

The messy games include each yurt teams battling it out in games of oily balloon passes, duck duck egg and paint wars. After splishing and splashing through yards of paint, campers jump back into the lake to clean off before closing out the week with a carnival. Each year’s carnival is different, but this year’s includes popcorn, bounce houses, dunk tanks and a serious dance party.

Once the campers leave, their Camp Kesem journey is not over: counselors and campers stay in touch and continue to support one another throughout the year. Reunions are hosted twice a year to enjoy one another’s company before the next year’s camp begins.