When Guy Viner learned in 2011 that the University of Pennsylvania was starting a chapter of Camp Kesem, he quickly joined the group. Camp Kesem, with 54 chapters in 27 states, provides a free one-week overnight summer camp for children affected by a parent’s cancer.
“A lot of these kids think that their experience is unique to them, but there’s a lot that’s shared between the children in our camp,” says Viner, a Wharton senior concentrating in marketing who spearheads their fundraising efforts. “One of the main ideas at the camp is to connect them to understand that their parent’s cancer isn’t their fault and that there is a loving and supportive community of children and counselors who are there to support them.”
Viner’s passion to help children stems from his own experience. When he was a sophomore in high school in Massapequa, N.Y., his father, Joe, died of cancer. And, the summer before his senior year in high school, his mother, Yonit, was diagnosed with breast cancer. She’s now in remission.
“Cancer has touch my life and also impacted the experiences of my brother and sister, so I knew that I wanted to be involved in cancer related advocacy and support services, especially for children,” Viner says. “When my father was diagnosed, I was 13, so that’s older than more than half of our campers.”
Viner also understands how the camp impacts parents as well as their children.
“It alleviates the stress and responsibility from the parents for that one week,” he says. “And they can see their children being normal kids playing with other children.”
Camp Kesem is staffed entirely by volunteers like Viner. This year, 45 Penn students will serve as counselors, while other members are helping to design programming, arrange logistics and raise the funds necessary to hold the program.
In 2012, 26 children attended the Penn Camp Kesem. Last year the number grew to 63. This year the group hopes to accommodate 90 campers for the week of activities Aug. 10-15 at Camp Saginaw in Oxford, Pa. Throughout the year, Viner and the Penn chapter have been busy working to raise $45,000 to make that happen.
In addition to support from family and friends, several student organizations have held fundraisers. Hillel co-hosted a Zumba-Thon, several fraternities and sororities on campus held fundraising events during Greek Week and the undergraduate Wharton Council donated funds from the Wharton 5K to aid in the effort.
Other organizations collected items such as craft making supplies for the camp.
Penn’s Camp Kesem received an added boost in contributions this year from the Philadelphia Eagles. In March the Camp was named the winner of a $5,000 Community Quarterback grant sponsored by the Eagles and Teva Pharmaceuticals. At the awards ceremony, Viner was also recognized for exemplary volunteer service.
Viner, who plans to work in project management in the tech industry following graduation, says his work with Camp Kesem has been a highlight.
“This has been my most transformational experience at Penn,” says Viner. “I’m just happy I’ve been able to be a part of this and see how successful it’s become.”