Letter to the Editor: Vote for Camp Kesem in National Competition

Winnetka resident Jane Saccaro shares her story and urges readers to vote for her organization, Camp Kesem, in Chase Community Giving Awards.

Last December, I joined an amazing organization, Camp Kesem, as executive director. After a career in strategic consulting and operations, I felt that it was time to make a switch – and to find a way to demonstrably improve the lives of others.

With three young children of my own (ages seven, five and five months), I wanted them to see “giving back” in action – and to know that we all have an obligation to positively impact the world around us.

At the time, I was moved by the incredible dual mission of this organization, and the opportunity to work with college student leaders to truly have a positive impact on thousands of lives.

When Cancer Became Personal

However, within two short months, it was one very sacred life that mattered most to me. On Jan. 31, my beautiful and beloved sister, Susan, was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer at age 35. After a horrible battle, Susan passed away in April, leaving behind her devoted husband, three young children, and many wounded hearts.

When a parent is diagnosed with cancer, the entire family is affected. For children whose parents have this horrible disease, the joys of childhood are replaced with a new reality of cancer vocabulary, treatments and fears. This produces life-altering changes to their childhood development. Without support, these children withdraw, lose self-esteem, and meet increased social and academic roadblocks.

Worried parents seek out support for their children and discover that there are very few or no support services available until they find Camp Kesem. Camp Kesem is a college-student led summer camp for children ages six to 16 whose parents have or had cancer.

How Camp Kesem Works

In the safe and supportive atmosphere of Camp Kesem, children befriend peers facing similar issues, and gain the strategies and confidence needed to cope with their parent’s illness or death, gifts that last far beyond a week at camp. At the same time, college students develop leadership know-how for tomorrow as they create, manage, fundraise and run every aspect of their local Camp Kesem chapter.

When I was in high school, I was very active in a peer counseling, support and leadership organization in Lake Forest called CROYA (Committee Representing Our Young Adults). CROYA showed me the impact that peer-to-peer counseling and empowerment can have, and I believe these same themes are why Camp Kesem is so successful today.

Camp Kesem has a proven model and 11 years of success. But sadly, we are only serving a tiny fraction of the 11 million individuals (and their families) who battle cancer each year. Our goal is to someday bring the Camp Kesem “magic” to any family coping with cancer.

Growth on a National Scale

To that end, we are in the midst of a significant expansion. In the next three years alone, we plan to add 27 more campus chapters, doubling the number of children we can help. By 2014, we hope to provide life-changing experiences to more than 3,000 children and 2,000 college student leaders every year.

Camp Kesem has been given a unique opportunity to accelerate our growth plans significantly. We have been selected as one of 25 recipients to compete in this year’s Chase Community Giving Awards, an online voting competition co-sponsored by Chase Bank and Facebook.

What You Can Do

From now until Wednesday, Oct. 5 at 11 a.m. CST, you can help Camp Kesem win this vote by voting as follows. We are very close to winning the competition, but we are currently in second place and will need every vote to win.

Vote today at www.clickforkesem.org

Get 20 more votes to ensure Camp Kesem wins by telling everyone you know about this incredible opportunity.

Do you have a Chase account?   Cast a second vote at www.chase.com

Not on Facebook?  Chances are your friends, kids, or colleagues are - ask them to vote! Please get the word out to as many people as you can.

While cancer may never be eradicated, for the children of cancer patients, there is support available today. My family and I are committed to making sure that Camp Kesem will provide this empowering experience to my two nephews and niece, along with thousands of other children who are suffering as well. Please help make this dream a reality by giving to Camp Kesem today. Your support will bring much needed comfort to thousands of children, and in doing so, empower young people on the brink of their careers to be generational leaders.    

Other important notes:

We have 38 active college chapters, including 11 in the Midwest at Northwestern University, University of Illinois, Notre Dame, Indiana University, University of Michigan, Michigan State, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Augustana College, University of Minnesota, University of Missouri, and Ohio State University.

About the Chase competition:

If we win this first round of voting, we will advance to the finals. Winning the first round of voting guarantees Camp Kesem $125,000 in funding, and a 1-in-5 chance to win $1 million. Winning this first round will also provide an opportunity for nationwide media exposure, as Chase will film and broadcast the awards ceremony in December.

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