Caroline Huang founded a branch of Camp Kesem at MIT, a free camp for children ages 6 to 13 whose parents have cancer.
Last summer, she made it possible for 41 children to visit a New Hampshire lake in the Ossipee Mountains, where campers swam, canoed, played kickball and tag, and also had a chance to express their feelings.
“Cancer is very personal to me because I lost both my paternal grandparents to the disease when I was 13,” says Huang, who had spent four years in high school as a Delaware camp counselor. “The effect of losing a parent on a six-year-old is powerful. It’s great to offer them a way to lessen the isolation.”
Familiar with the national organization when she arrived at MIT three years ago, Huang — who was recently named a Rhodes Scholar — headed directly to MIT’s Public Service Center to get advice on how to launch a chapter at MIT. Following their guidance, Huang raised $80,000; created and managed a budget; publicized the camp to the local community; developed partnerships with Massachusetts General Hospital, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and Boston’s Beth Israel Hospital to recruit campers; and trained 34 MIT students to work as counselors.
“It’s inspiring for children to see others in the same situation,” Huang says. “Some of the children have enormous invisible burdens on them. You wouldn’t know unless you delved deep into the sadness and guilt some of them feel. Our job is to provide a safe, supportive environment, and if they want to talk, there is a therapist on staff full time.”
Huang also has participated in Student Leaders in Service, an AmeriCorps-funded program that gives a student a $1,000 education grant for 300 hours of community service. Twice Huang completed the 300-hour requirement before the year was half over because she invests so much time in the camp. She is now working to make sure the necessary structure is in place for Camp Kesem to continue after she graduates.
A member of the camp’s national board of directors, she says: “On a national level, I would love to see Camp Kesem on at least one college campus in every state. That’s my big dream.”
“In an ideal world, we’ll not need Camp Kesem anymore if there is a cure for cancer. But in the meantime, these kids and their parents need a lot of social support.”