VCU juniors Jenny Holmgrain and Sarah Dodson have begun a charity campaign to raise $30,000 by June 2014 to give children with parents who are suffering or have died from cancer the opportunity to go to a summer camp for free.
The program is managed and supported by the VCU chapter of Camp Kesem, a national charity organization that aims to comfort the children of cancer patients and victims by inviting them to attend a free summer camp for a week.
Holmgrain and Dodson started the chapter last semester when Holmgrain received a call from Camp Kesem’s main office, alerting her that VCU was selected to receive a grant of $10,000 over a two-year period to start a chapter of Camp Kesem at VCU. Student Amber Holloway assists the two as a volunteer coordinator for Camp Kesem at VCU.
After months of collecting signatures and competing in voting competitions against 21 other schools Holmgrain and Dodson officially established the chapter in April 2013.
“We sat in the Commons for hours,” Holmgrain said. “We sat there and gave out like five dozen donuts nearly begging people to vote for us so that we could get Camp Kesem to VCU. William & Mary, University of Richmond and U.Va. all had chapters of Camp Kesem. We felt like VCU needed one too.”
Camp Kesem was founded in 2000 by a group of students from Stanford University. They named the camp “Kesem,” the Hebrew word for magic, because their goal was to bring magic to families coping with cancer.
This year, the camp will serve over 2,000 children. Since its first operating summer, Camp Kesem has grown from a single camp to 54 active chapters in 27 states, including the three other Virginia chapters of William & Mary, University of Virginia and the University of Richmond.
The VCU chapter of Camp Kesem plans on coordinating local events with the University of Richmond chapter to help raise money for both of the camps.
“We’ve done cool events like ‘stuff the cup’ and bake sales in the past, and we are definitely going to do more of it this semester,” Dodson said. “We want the whole campus to know about us and what we are doing and hopefully contribute to the cause.”
Holmgrain’s mother, Laura Holmgrain, is also assisting the VCU chapter by contacting possible donors outside of VCU.
“I am very proud of Jenny,” Laura Holmgrain said. “In her freshman year, Camp Kesem had told her they weren’t launching any new chapters. In her sophomore year they contacted her to start the VCU chapter.”
In 2009, Jenny Holmgrain’s father died of lung cancer. In that same year, her sister, Skylar, attended a summer camp managed and supported by the George Washington University Camp Kesem chapter.
“Skylar has told me it’s the one place that when she goes that they all speak the same ‘language’ and understand what each of them face or are facing without having to explain it,” Laura Holmgrain said. “It makes a big difference. What these college students and organizations accomplish truly is magic to any parent watching their child live through with such sadness.”
In the upcoming weeks, the VCU Camp Kesem team will reach out to local schools to find campers, reveal the theme for this summer’s camp and review applications for camp counselors.
The VCU chapter has collected approximately $7,500 to date, Holmgrain said.