In September of 2011, an old friend of mine asked me if I wanted to help out “Camp Kesem.” A little confused, I told her I had no idea what she was asking about. It turns out Camp Kesem is a free student-run summer camp open to kids from ages 6-16 who have a parent in treatment for cancer, in remission for cancer, or has passed away from cancer. She told me that for the summer of 2012, they were hoping to send 95 kids to camp and would love to have a professional yo-yo player as a special guest.
Honored, and a little overwhelmed, I gladly accepted her invite to be a part of Camp Kesem for the summer of 2012. A little unsure of what I should do, I decided I would try to teach the kids how to yo-yo. YoYoFactory graciously helped me out and donated over 100 Spinstars to the kids at camp.
On June 23rd, a Saturday, I set out to Camp with some new friends. When we arrived to the camp grounds, we walked into the middle of the Kesem Carnival—waterslide included. I started to demo for about 20 minutes when some kids got really interested and wanted to give it a shot. I let them try for a bit and told them I’d be running a yo-yo class later in the day when they were doing activity rotations. As the Carnival was coming to a close, the counselors asked the kids to
get into a circle and they all welcomed me with my new nickname, “Yogurt the yo-yo man,” or “Yogurt” for short. They asked me to get in the center of the circle and show them some tricks. A little embarrassed, I agreed, and the amount of cheering and compliments I received was pretty overwhelming.
After a quick lunch and some songs, we distributed a yo-yo to every camper. They were ecstatic and rushed to their cabins for “rest hour.” I went to the Teal Unit’s cabin with my new friends to prepare for my rotations.
My first rotation was with the orange unit. The campers reaction to the Spinstars was fantastic. As I was walking to the patio where I was going to run my rotations, I saw huge groups of kids playing yo-yo. After a short demo, we played a quick game of “name that yo-yo trick,” where I would do my favorite yo-yo tricks and the campers would come up with names. Afterwards, the real fun started and I started to run the lessons. There was a lot of positive energy, as well smiles and laughter to go around.
As orange group left to go swimming, I went off to the ampitheater where my next rotation was held with the younger units in camp. This group was even BIGGER then the first! The kids were very welcoming and were also very enthusiastic. In this group, some of the counselors even joined in on the lessons. It was the first time most of them have played with a yo-yo in years.
When we were done with my second and last rotation, we all walked over to the dining hall and waited for dinner. As I sat down, I looked around the hall and realized at every table, there were a ton of kids playing with yo-yos and having a lot of fun. Even the groups that didn’t get to go to my lessons were messing around and learning tricks from the other campers. Heck, even the nurse was joining in on the fun!
After dinner, I headed home. I was really happy with the entire day. Everyone at camp, the kids, the counselors, and even the staff all had great attitudes and it was pretty fantastic. My favorite thing about Camp Kesem is that it does a good thing for the kids as well as the counselors. The kids are given a chance to be kids again; they are able to take a week off and enjoy their summer at camp with their friends… and the counselors get to help make that happen. It’s a beautiful thing, and from the one day I got to visit, I am extremely impressed. Camp Kesem was a wonderful, and extremely humbling, experience. If all goes well, I plan on going back next year. Thank you, Camp Kesem!
For more information about UCSD’s Camp Kesem, please visit their Website.