It’s rare to meet two people that call themselves “Sandy” and “Pinecone.” These names are the ones given to Samantha “Sandy” Denman and Steven “Pinecone” Reed as their official camp names in an organization called Camp Kesem.
Kesem, which is found at many universities across America including Ohio State, is a weeklong, all-expenses-paid summer camp dedicated to helping children, ages 6-16, who have a parent with cancer. Each of these campers, along with every other member of Kesem, is given a camp name when they join, a name that will stick with them for years to come.
“You’re not gonna take on a camp name unless you can hear that name and have a big smile on your face, thumbs up and be like, ‘Yeah, that’s the one,’” said Reed, a director for the OSU chapter.
With OSU coming up on its fifth year of camp, the organization is looking to increase not only their number of campers but the weeks and money needed to do so as well.
“Last summer, we actually had 103 campers at camp. This upcoming summer, we’re looking to have 135,” said Reed, a fifth-year in environmental engineering.
Unlike previous summers with only one week of camp, these campers will be split into two different weeks at the end of July, a task that Reed said will require raising around $85,000 by summer 2016.
“Usually we have to wait-list campers, unfortunately, every year,” Reed said, but he said he hopes this year will be less of a problem with the added week and more people getting involved.
Although Kesem was founded at Stanford University back in 2001, it didn’t come to OSU until 2011. OSU’s first summer camp only consisted of about 20 kids but has grown more and more each year, along with the staff and volunteers involved as well.
“This year, right off the bat, we had a huge interest in Camp Kesem at Ohio State,” said Denman, a PR and marketing coordinator for Kesem. “It’s great to see that.”
The OSU chapter currently has between 150 and 200 active members who all are in charge of helping raise the necessary funds to send each of the 135 kids to camp, free of charge.
“You work so hard throughout the year, and then you see how much it means to the kids, and it’s just incredible to see how happy they are,” said Denman, a third-year in early childhood education.
The camp’s original founder, Iris Rave, started the organization in 2001 because while there were many camps for children with cancer, there weren’t any for those that had a parent with cancer, Denman said.
“There wasn’t a camp like Camp Kesem out there at all,” Denman said.
The idea quickly became a success and drew attention all over the country. By the year 2015, the now-national organization has 62 chapters from coast to coast and has helped thousands of kids and their families through harsh times.
“Last summer, we were able to send 5,001 kids to camp, which if you look at the growth over the years is just tremendous,” Reed said, referring to all of the nation’s chapters. “It’s awesome that we have been able to sustain the amount of growth over this period of time.”
Part of that success has come from the hard work and dedication many of the Kesem volunteers and members put toward the organization, Reed said.
“There are just so many genuine people in the organization from our campers and our camper parents to our counselors, our professional staff, all of our volunteers,” Reed said. “It’s just such an amazing group of people to surround yourselves with.”
However, the term “camp” doesn’t mean just one week each summer to these people. Most Kesem members are a constant support year-round for the campers and their families, including something they like to refer to as “Call on Kesem.”
“That’s where families can reach out to us to go to one of their child’s sporting events, if they need a babysitter or maybe they are just going through a rough time,” Denman said.
The year-round support also goes into fundraisers, bake sales, profit shares with various companies like Chipotle and individual funding for each coordinator and counselor.
“One of our biggest fundraising events is called ‘Make the Magic.’ It’s a benefit dinner,” Denman said.
Kesem members are currently in the preparations for the upcoming April 2 event that will be held in the Archie Griffin Grand Ballroom at the Ohio Union. The event will include a guest speaker, silent and live auctions and a dinner.
Reed says the end of the semester means fundraising will kick back up for the coordinators and counselors who are in charge of raising a minimum of $300 on their own.
“That’s one thing we like to do over break, is go home and solicit donations from any contacts we have,” he said.
As for the uncommon nicknames, Denman said it’s more than just a single word they and the campers go by.
“At Camp Kesem you can be whoever you want to be,” Denman said. “It’s a time for the kids to forget about all of the worries they have in the world and just be whoever they want to be.”