California – Angeles National Forest: Camp Kesem

Brenda Palaby

What organization did you volunteer with, and where were you located?

This past summer I volunteered through UCLA’s Camp Kesem at Angeles Crest Christian Camp in California’s Angeles National Forest.


Why did you choose to volunteer with Camp Kesem?

I chose to volunteer through Camp Kesem because of its mission to serve a widely overlooked community of children affected by a parent’s cancer. I first heard of Camp Kesem through a friend, and after looking into the organization some more, it sounded like the perfect way for me to engage with the greater community of Los Angeles while making a difference in the lives of children facing adult-sized problems. I also chose Camp Kesem simply because I love working with kids and believe every child deserves carefree summer days at camp!


Does Camp Kesem have a UCLA connection?

Yes, there are different chapters of Camp Kesem around the United States — UCLA’s Camp Kesem started in 2004. This past summer we were fortunate enough to expand UCLA’s Camp Kesem to two weeks of camp instead of one!


How did your experience influence you, what knowledge or insights did you gain during
your time of service?

Camp Kesem aims to support, give back, and empower the campers, but in all honesty, I feel that I received more from my campers than I could ever give back to them. I was lucky enough to be a counselor to teenagers this year. At first, being a new counselor among veteran campers intimidated me a bit, but the impact they left me with after only seven days has forever changed me for the better. Because I had one of the older groups of Kesem, many of the campers in my unit had already been coming to Camp Kesem for over 5 years. Hearing how much Kesem has impacted their lives and how every summer they plan around the dates of Kesem verified that I joined an incredible organization that holds much meaning and respect.


Did you experience any culture shock during your volunteering?

If anything, I was constantly shocked by the level of maturity and respect every camper had — even the 6 year olds! The support system created by the Kesem community is unbelievable and the most heartwarming feeling to witness.


What was a typical day like for you?

A typical day for me in the teen unit was slightly different than a typical day at Kesem. For example, teen units had a few more trust exercises and faced a couple more challenges including the night hike. In general, however, a typical day would include singing songs, playing games, making crafts, and enjoying the company of those around you. There are also carnivals, a talent show, and everyone’s favorite: cabin chat! Every day ends with a “cabin chat” or a talk within your unit and closest peers. I believe that learning to share, trust, and keep everyone’s story safe, no matter how silly or serious it may be, is part of the special bond Kesem campers come to create.

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