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Camp Kesem Offers Relief for Kids with Cancer-Stricken Parents

Camp Kesem Offers Relief for Kids with Cancer-Stricken Parents

Stacey Tinianov, a Santa Clara resident, received a breast cancer diagnosis in May 2013. After surviving the disease, Tinianov is currently beginning the process of reconstructive surgery and hopes to complete her surgical treatments by the end of this year.

A mother of two kids, ages 11 and 12, Tinianov is passionate about helping children of cancer-stricken parents to find support. So she joined the advisory board of Camp Kesem Santa Clara University, a camp for kids, ages six to 16, whose parents have been affected by cancer. “Kesem” translates to “magic” in Hebrew.


There are 54 such camps around the country. The Santa Clara location is among one of the 13 new camps that sprung up this year. This summer, from August 10-15, Camp Kesem Santa Clara University will oversee a week-long sleepaway camp in Redwood Glen within the Santa Cruz Mountains.

“Children who have parents with cancer are often underserved and overlooked as a population, and [a camp] like this is of critical importance,” Tinianov says. “Last year, I would’ve loved to have a safe, fun place for my children to go to. But Camp Kesem didn’t exist in Santa Clara yet. My kids are enrolled in this year’s camp.”

“When a parent receives a cancer diagnosis, the entire family experiences fear,” Tinianov continues. “We involve the kids as much as they want to be involved, and of course, they want to know everything. The kids had to step up, and they shouldn’t have to step up all the time. A child dealing with this needs a break.”

“The camp’s focus is on helping kids return to being a kid and helping them remember how to be happy and carefree and not feel they have to be responsible for a sibling or a parent all the time,” says Margret Mendenhall, a Santa Clara University junior and co-director of Camp Kesem Santa Clara University. “At the camp, we have one ceremony where we talk about the kids’ connection to cancer. But the rest of the camp allows the kid to be happy for a week with a peer support network. We’ve learned that the most effective way to provide therapy for children is to offer peer support. Having a camp being with other people in the same situation as them helps them to feel less alone. We’ll do sports, arts, crafts, and drama.”

Activities are facilitated by volunteers, who are students at Santa Clara University. According to Mendenhall, volunteers are background-checked and have received 12 hours of training to be a camp counselor and work with kids who are homesick and feeling down. The camp will offer a one-to-three counselor to child ratio.

Because Camp Kesem is free for participants, the camp relies 100 percent on fundraising and donations. On Saturday, March 8th from 1-4 p.m. in the Mission Garden at Santa Clara University, Camp Kesem Santa Clara University will host a fundraiser called Make the Magic. Attendees can participate in a carnival, silent auction, and raffle.

“Every chapter [of Camp Kesem] is responsible for fundraising for all the money it’d need to run a camp,” Mendenhall says. “This year, we’re trying to fundraise $30,000. Right now, we have $18,000, and we have to raise $12,000 more. So we hope to fundraise more at Make the Magic and spread the word about the camp. We have 15 more open spots [for campers].”

Visit for information on enrolling a child in Camp Kesem Santa Clara University. Email Margret Mendenhall at for more information about donations or purchasing tickets to Make the Magic.


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