Kids and teens around Arizona are gearing up for another fun week at summer camp.

They have one thing in common, and it is something that no one wants to experience in their lifetime.

Camp Kesem-Arizona State University is for kids ages 6 to 16 who have or had a parent afflicted with cancer. It is a free, week-long camp put on by volunteers through donations.

Volunteer counselors say it is a very rewarding experience, for not just the kids, but everyone involved.

“They are normal children like anyone else but they had rough times,” said Ashley Dreas, Ahwatukee Foothills resident and counselor at Camp Kesem. “When you first meet them, they are excited. They know its their one week where they can leave their problems behind.”

To send approximately 90 kids to camp, coordinators needed to raise about $40,000. It takes place at Chauncey Ranch in Mayer, Ariz., and the kids do activities like nature hikes, swimming, arts and crafts, sports with other campers, singing in the dining hall or by the camp fire, and participating in the talent show.

While the camp brings in kids who are going through a traumatic time, the fact that everyone else is going through a similar situation is what brings them together, Dreas said.

“The camp isn’t all consumed with crying all the time, and the kids feeling sorry for themselves,” she said. “We also have cabin chats each night and sometimes the subject of cancer comes up in those. You just lay off and let the kids talk amongst themselves.”

There are other Camp Kesems around the country and all are run by college students. It is an organization run by a board, but the daily activities of the camp is all done by college volunteers.

“The opportunity this is giving for college students is something I don’t think can be given other places,” said Heather Koch, who served as cochairman for last year’s camp. “I had no idea it would have the impact on me that it did. I can say that hands down it is the most significant thing in my undergraduate career.”

Prospective volunteers must go through an application and interview process before being admitted. They must also show off their knowledge of the camp songs, an important part of the interview. But it is an example of what they are looking for when it comes to volunteers.

“It’s Disneyland-like,” said Dreas, who will be doing it for the third time this year. “It’s a perfect week for the kids.”

If you would like to donate or find out more about the camp, visit This year’s camp will be from Monday, July 9 to Saturday, July 14.

• Contact writer: (480) 898-4903 or

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