UW students create camp for children of cancer patients

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by ELISA HAHN / KING 5 News

Bio | Email | Follow: @ElisaHahnK5

KING5.com

Posted on August 30, 2012 at 9:03 PM

It's a weeklong adventure on Key Peninsula -- a chance for a boy like 13-year-old Nelson Covert to learn a new hobby.

"I'm really looking forward to archery,” Nelson said.

His 10-year-old sister Gracie has a head start on him. She spent the morning with a bow and arrow, just letting go.

“What I'm looking forward to the most is 'messy Olympics,'” she said.

At first, Camp Kesem seems like any other summer camp, except the kids who go there share a sad connection.

"You're parents are different,” said Nelson. “They aren't the same as they used to be.”

They're different, because the camp is for children of parents battling cancer.

"They didn't really understand,” said Kristi Covert, Nelson and Gracie’s mother. “Especially my younger daughter, Gracie. She had a harder time with it. She was very upset. My son was a little more quiet, he didn't ask a lot of questions. He just wanted to make sure I wasn't going to die.”

Covert says her kids watched her endure 4 surgeries last year including a mastectomy.

"Sometimes I think she's not going to come back from the hospital and she's going to have to stay there a long time,” said Gracie.

Gracie and Nelson said they felt isolated, none of their friends could understand what their family was going through as their mother endured cancer treatment. But at Camp Kesem, it's different.

"You'll know that there are people out there who have gone through the same process as you have,” said Nelson.

“And you're not alone too,” said Gracie. “That's what I like about here most.”

There are 37 Camp Kesems across the country. The goal is to provide kids of cancer patients with a supportive camping community that understands their needs.

Washington's Camp Kesem was held this year at a facility near Allyn. It was created by two University of Washington students, Claire Andrefsky and Michelle Nemetz, who came up with the idea to bring Camp Kesem to Washington state a year ago. Both know first hand that cancer not only affects the patient, but the people around them.

"Seeing a lot of family members go through it, it's always hit home,” said Nemetz.

"My really close friend from childhood was sick from middle school to senior year of high school,” said Andrefsky. “And I was the person that was there. She died my senior year of high school. I didn't want to remember her by doing something sad.”

So they reached out to patients who have young children, raised $36,000, and recruited two dozen UW students as counselors.

The kids at the camp say they like that they're encouraged to have fun, but also encouraged to talk about mom and dad if they want to.

"You still want to be happy, here,” said Gracie Covert. “You don't want to be sad, but you can still think about them, and be happy thoughts about them.”

"Here everybody knows how it feels,” said Nemetz. “So yeah, take your time. If you need to cry right now, you can cry right now. If you need a minute, take a minute. And I'll be right here with you because I get it too.”

Back in Seattle, their mom was just a click of the mouse away. Kristi Covert got updates on the kids through Camp Kesem’s Facebook page and Twitter stream.

"It's a great way to connect and to see that they're having fun,” said Covert.

Following the tradition of other Camp Kesems, this camp will always be run by college students. So although this is the camp's first year, it won't be long before Nemetz and Andrefsky pass the torch to the next generation.

"There are so many other people that this could impact, and teach leadership to, and change lives for,” said Andrefsky. “It's sad for us but it's also really joyous that we get to share this experience and give it to someone else.”

Camp Kesem is for kids 6 to 13 years old, and is free to all who attend. For more information go to the camp'ss website: campkesem.org.

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