The project started as a late-night chat between roommates about families they met while volunteering at the Seidman Cancer Center. Aspiring doctors, juniors Vidhushei (Vid) Yogeswaran and Vashti Aguilar decided they wanted to help children whose loved ones suffered from the disease. Eight months later, their concept, also developed by junior Yssra Soliman, has become concrete. With the support of faculty and more than two dozen students, they have won a $10,000 grant from Livestrong to host a program at Case Western Reserve in summer 2014.
The team focused its efforts on creating a campus chapter of Camp Kesem, a national nonprofit that coordinates summer camp experiences for children with parents who have or have had cancer. Launched in 2001, Camp Kesem now offers programs at more than 40 colleges and universities nationwide. One of its distinctive qualities is that college students run every one of the sites.
Each camper stays at camp overnight for a week at no cost to the family, which removes a financial burden from families already facing huge medical costs. Camp Kesem gives children a supportive setting to talk about their experiences while also providing all manner of activities.
“The camp helps these children build a foundation of courage and confidence that will last them a lifetime,” Yogeswaran said.
Yogeswaran and Aguilar have seen firsthand these children’s needs.
“I met a boy whose mom had pancreatic cancer,” Yogeswaran said. “He had two siblings that he wasn’t close to because of a large age gap, and his mom was a single parent. With no one to talk to about his mother’s treatment, he felt helpless and alone.”
Since their late-night talk, Yogeswaran and Aguilar formed a team of students who committed hundreds of hours to bringing Camp Kesem to Case Western Reserve. The co-founding team also includes Soliman, Brandon Vu and Fusa Kambara. University faculty provided valuable assistance and advice, including George Kikano, chair of the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health and the leader of the Weatherhead Institute for Family Medicine and Community Health. The team also cited Camp Kesem’s counsel and support during the process of preparing an application to Livestrong.
Case Western Reserve’s proposal went through the foundation’s Community Impact Project, in which the public online vote for the programs they think deserve funding. The proposal from Yogeswaran and the team was one of 14 that won funding.
Now they need to build a team of eight to 10 student coordinator volunteers as well as numerous committee members. They seek motivated students who are passionate about the cause.
Yogeswaran also spoke of the importance of a diverse staff to ensure quality in all facets of the project.
“Business majors could help with budget, sociology majors with camper care,” she said. “We want to make sure it’s diverse.”