Recent Graduate Leading Camp “That Combines Two of My Passions”

11.02.2016
Evette Ronner '14
Eventte Ronner '14

Evette Ronner ’14 never heard of Camp Kesem until last spring. Now she is founding director of her college’s branch of this week-long free summer camp experience for children whose parents are battling cancer.

“The national organization announced that it was looking for directors to start a Harvard chapter,” Evette related. “After learning about the mission, I instantly knew that I wanted to be the founder of this new chapter.”

Evette is a junior at Harvard majoring in human developmental and regenerative biology. “After college, I hope to go to medical school to fulfill my dreams of becoming a doctor,” she said. “Because I love working with kids so much, I would love to sub-specialize in a pediatric field of medicine.”

“The Kesem mission combined two of my passions: helping children and conquering cancer,” she said. “I have been a camp counselor for the past four summers and absolutely love working with children, especially in a camp setting. I also am really passionate about overcoming illness.  Kesem’s mission resonated with me so strongly because I lost my father to terminal brain cancer when I was only six years old, back in 2002.”

The Camp Kesem model is a one-week off-campus sleep-away camp experience sponsored by a college or university. The national office oversees 80 chapters in 38 states, providing training, support and leadership development to students who volunteer to create, manage and run the camps.

As founding director, Evette said, “my main responsibility is to ensure that we reach all of our goals to make the first year of camp a success. These goals include raising $30,000, choosing our campsite, selecting our counselors and campers, and finding volunteer nurses and mental health professionals to volunteer at camp.” The program is planned for a week in August, and the Harvard chapter is finalizing a venue.

“Our chapter at Harvard has worked with MIT and Brown University. Because Brown was a first-year camp last year, it was really amazing to see how devoted undergraduates can really come together and change lives for kids in just a year,” Evette said.  

Last summer she attended a day of Brown’s camp program. “It was so wonderful to see how much Kesem meant to the children,” she said. “I observed their ‘empowerment ceremony,’ the one time during camp that we have a designated time for children (and counselors) to share their stories. I was so moved by the stories from these children, and was also impressed by their strength.” 

MIT’s chapter has been around for over 10 years, with about 180 campers and 90 counselors, she continued. “The success at MIT is really inspiring to us at Harvard, and we hope to leave a Kesem legacy at Harvard after we graduate. I am working to spread the word on campus about Kesem’s mission and how other students can get involved.”

As she learned first-hand, Evette said, “cancer does not only affect the patient, but also their entire family, and children of parents with cancer suffer too. They often have to fill parental roles to compensate for their sick parent, and have to deal with a lot of anxiety and stress every day associated with their parent’s cancer.” 

“Being part of the Maimonides community really taught me the value of being part of a tight-knit, supportive community,” Evette continued. “It provides a support system of people who care about each other, both during times of celebration and trouble. I hope to give the children and counselors a community that they can call home, similar to the Maimo family that many students and alumni call their home, both during and beyond their years at the school.”

“I remember childhood summer as being such a wonderful time to relax and have fun. I would love to be able to give back and provide these children with a fun, loving and supportive camp environment to help support them through and beyond their parent’s cancer,” Evette concluded.