Discovering Magic at Columbia

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Eden Astorino

I vividly remember my first club meeting with Camp Kesem at Columbia. I walked into the room as a timid freshman and was immediately greeted by a large group of students with warm smiles and a genuine interest in getting to know me and welcoming me to the club. My nerves were put at ease, and I realized that Kesem was a community I needed to be a part of. Later in the meeting, the directors played a video explaining Kesem’s mission: to support children through and beyond a parent’s cancer. The video had everyone in tears; it both tugged at and filled my heart. I hurt for these children, but felt overwhelming gratitude for the existence of Kesem and the opportunity to be involved in creating the magic. 

Kesem is a national organization run by college students that provides a weeklong camp and yearlong programming for kids whose parents’ lives have been impacted by cancer. We spend the year fundraising and developing programming for college students, campers, and parents, all leading up to camp at the end of the summer that campers attend at no cost. I am now in my third year with Kesem, currently serving as the executive director for Columbia’s Kesem chapter. Most of my experience with Kesem has been virtual due to Covid. While a virtual environment has certainly evoked the same disappointment that Covid has brought upon all of our lives, it also proved to me the resilience of the Kesem community. The pandemic was a time when campers and counselors needed Kesem the most—dealing with grief and cancer alone and in quarantine is something no one should have to do, especially at such a young age. But the virtual nature of camp didn’t stop our campers from showing up as the brilliant and brave individuals they are. Every morning they logged into our “zoom cabins” with smiles and enthusiasm, excited to be as close to each other as possible. 

Kesem truly embodies the “magic” its name implies. No matter the circumstances, Kesem campers and students show up for each other with love, excitement, strength, and a loyalty like no other. This year Kesem is planning to return to an in-person camp, where students and campers will reunite after almost three years apart. If you are interested in donating or becoming involved in Kesem, email with any questions; we will be thrilled to welcome you in whatever capacity you desire. 

Eden Astorino (JP ’23)