CU Boulder establishes local chapter of Camp Kesem, serves children of cancer patients

Camp Kesel Counselor "Sunshine" shares a laugh with a camper at the camp at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md. (Photo Courtesy of Santiago Gonzalez/University of Colorado Boulder Camp Kesem Chapter)
A Camp Kesem counselor shares a laugh with a camper at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md. Camp Kesem is a student-run summer camp that helps kids with a parent who has or had cancer. CU recently started the first Camp Kesem in Colorado. (Photo courtesy Santiago Gonzalez/University of Colorado Boulder Camp Kesem Chapter)

This year, CU Boulder students established a Camp Kesem chapter so they can begin providing services to children whose parents are suffering from or have died from cancer.

On Dec. 7, the local arm of Camp Kesem will be holding an all-day fundraiser at Cafe Mexicali, located on 2850 Baseline Road, to raise money to hold a summer camp for young Coloradans whose parents have been diagnosed with cancer.

Stanford University’s Hillel, a Jewish college group, created the camp in 2000. “Kesem” is a Hebrew word that translates to magic and represents the spirit of the camp that first began in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Today, there are more than 54 active chapters in nearly 30 states.

Each chapter holds an overnight camp one week during the summer for children ages 6 to 16. Every camper, counselor and volunteer is given a nickname as a part of the camp’s silly and playful atmosphere. For example, one volunteer arrived on a redeye flight and has been called “Redeye” ever since.

The camps are free to the kids and funded in full through fundraisers and donations. Though there are many organizations that meet the needs for kids with cancers, this is the only organization in the nation that serves this specific population.

Senior sociology major Brian “Beard” Guth-Pasta, from Palo Alto, Calif., attended the camp. Guth-Pasta’s mother had breast cancer that went into remission in 1996, but due to complications from chemotherapy, she ended up developing a second type of cancer that she died from on her birthday, he said.

Guth-Pasta’s father decided that Camp Kesem was exactly what his son needed.

“Camp was the first time I was around kids that could understand and appreciate my situation,” he said.

Due to the positive impact the camp had on his life, Guth-Pasta attended the camp until he was 16 years old and is now an active member of Boulder’s recently established Camp Kesem chapter.

“I wanted to give this experience I had to others,” Guth-Pasta said.

Sophomore marketing major Jessika “Nala” Moorhead decided to get involved with Camp Kesem after seeing an advertisement for a marketing position on a Younglife group board. Her desire to give back and her love of marketing landed her a position as marketing coordinator for Boulder’s chapter.

“I am so passionate about this organization because it changes lives,” Moorhead said.

Moorhead is a part of team leading Saturday’s fundraiser, one of many she will help host throughout the year. The Boulder camp expects to serve the needs of 30 to 50 children this summer and will need to raise $30,000 to $40,000 in order to operate the camp.

Liz “Phishy” Gray has dedicated her life to the organization for the past decade. She began volunteering as a student at Indiana University. She is now working with the Boulder staff as manager of programs and operations.

After Gray’s grandfather passed away from cancer, she watched her own mother struggle with his loss. That experience gave her an understanding of the organization’s unique mission.

“Camp Kesem is magical and transformational,” Gray said. “That is what I always say.”

Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Jordan Mathews at, twitter/jordan_mmathews.

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