Cal Poly student counselor's connections with the campers show during reunion events, months and sometimes years later. Sabrina Thompson | Mustang News

Sending kids to Camp Kesem, a nationwide summer camp that supports children whose parents have cancer, is about passing an experience he had in high school onto other children for mechanical engineering junior Anthony Catello.  

“As a camper I attended because my mother was diagnosed with a rare form of systematic cancer,” Catello said. “I made some really good friends there, people that helped me get through some pretty rough times, so I wanted to give that back.”

Now, Catello, known as “Yoda” to campers, gets to give back as the treasurer of Camp Kesem at Cal Poly and as a counselor. 

With more than 100 chapters across the country, the San Luis Obispo chapter was started three years ago by art and design senior Molly Eichten and some of her friends. 

“We serve a very unique population of kids,” Eichten said. “We don’t want to make them focus on the cancer and talk about their feelings. It’s like a regular week at any camp, but with a few things that are unique.”

Biological Sciences sophomore Vikram Bellamkonda is known as “Turtle” at Camp Kesem. Camp Kesem | Instagram

Kesem is a week long sleep-away camp that takes place at a local campground. Last year, Cal Poly’s Camp Kesem was at Camp Whittier in Santa Barbara. Campers experience traditional summer activities with the counselors, but also get the opportunity to open up about the struggles they are going through.

The camp focuses less on the children’s lives dealing with cancer so close to home, opting instead to help them escape that environment for a while and return to being kids. 

“Camp Kesem is important because it provides kids an outlet away from what is going on at home,” architectural engineering sophomore Kyle Bresnahan said. “We put on a camp to basically let them be kids and take away all those worries at home.”

“We put on a camp to basically let them be kids and take away all those worries at home”

Bresnahan runs the development and fundraising for Camp Kesem at Cal Poly and has been a counselor at the camp as well.

“This was the place where they really opened up and see that these kids around them were people that they could trust and are related to,” Eichten said. “At the empowerment ceremony, we gather and give the kids an opportunity to share what Kesem means to them. They once again get to see all of these people that are similar to them.”

In 2017, Cal Poly Camp Kesem raised more than $38,000 to send 32 kids to camp, according to Eichten. It costs about $1,000 per child to attend.

A large portion of the club’s earnings come from a dinner they host called Make the Magic. Here, community members can hear speakers share their stories, dine and donate to the cause. Individual member fundraising is another source for the club, with suggestions of $500 being raised by asking friends and family for their support. 

Counselor applications are open now through Dec. 22 at 8 p.m. Those interested do not have to be a part of the Camp Kesem organization on campus to apply.  

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *