Profile: For Ann Arbor’s Jesse Rubin, Camp Kesem has “changed the trajectory of my whole life”


Camp Kesem is a non-profit student organization that provides year-long support to kids affected by a parent’s cancer. Jesse Rubin, a student at the University of Michigan is one of many volunteers who helps the organization because of personal reasons. For Rubin, he knows EXACTLY what these young kids are experiencing because he himself experienced it.

“I first crossed paths with Kesem when I was in the fifth grade and my mom was undergoing treatment for breast cancer at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital,” says Rubin. “Local hospitals and cancer centers help us to reach campers and my mom learned about Kesem through this process. I was very shy growing up so summer camp wasn’t something that was of much interest to me.”

But Rubin’s mom gave him a supportive push and encouraged him to attend but left the decision solely up to him.

“I didn’t attend,” says Rubin, a native of Ann Arbor and graduate of Pioneer HS. “In hindsight, I regret not going to camp as I witness how Kesem helps our campers break out of their shells and embrace their true selves every day.

“Luckily for me I got a second shot at being involved with Kesem in my sophomore year of college. One of my best friends from growing up joined CK his freshman year and after hearing him rave about his experience at camp I knew I had to check it out. From my first day as a counselor, Kesem had my heart and I knew I wanted to become as involved as possible.”

Rubin, 21, says it’s still a struggle to put into words what the organization does not only for the campers but for what it has done for him as a person. And it’s not because what Kesem does is so complicated or abstract, but because the magic of Kesem needs to experienced first-hand to understand it’s full effects.

“I’m going to go as far as to say that Kesem has changed the trajectory of my whole life,” he says. “The Jesse who applied as a counselor was an anxious kid struggling with OCD who had withdrawn from half his classes first semester and essentially dropped out of school his second. I was living at home and very isolated from the campus community.”

Jesse with Shera Shevin.

Rubin admits that he had struggled so much with academic and social transition from high school to college that he thought his only option was to not do college at all.

“But my time at camp two summers ago changed all that,” he says. “One of our volunteer coordinators my first year, Chalupa, had a saying ‘camp self, best self,’ which he described to be giving 100 percent and being on all the time at camp, giving it your all whether you wanted to or not. I think of camp self, best self slightly differently. I think of your camp self as the true way YOU want the world to see you without any of the baggage of expectations from others that sometimes comes along with the non-camp world. When I left camp after my first week I was Goose. Through watching my campers who were 15-16 year old boys be their authentic, unbridled selves from wake up call to lights out for six days I realized that if they could embrace their situation and still pull pranks, sing their hearts out at song circle, and let the girls unit braid their hair that I could too.

“The memories I made in those few short days and the love I felt during affirmations, cabin magic, web of kindness and check-out fundamentally changed me. I left camp with exponentially more friends than I came in with, people who I wasn’t embarrassed to dance or sing In front of, people who I had spilled my guts to in cabin chat, people I could trust to love me unconditionally when we headed back to school.”

Rubin, now a senior majoring in pscyhology at U-M, started his junior year with a whole new outlook on school and on his life. He became more involved in Kesem as a consultant and ended up attending camp for both weeks this past August. This year he is serving as a development coordinator.

“It would be accurate to say that my life more or less revolves around Camp Kesem, but I wouldn’t want it any other way,” he says.

Camp Kesem
What: The annual Camp Kesem at the University of Michigan’s annual 5K Karl Krawl. The organization is a non-profit student organization that provides a free week of summer camp and year-long support to kids affected by a parent’s cancer.
When: 9 a.m. to noon, Oct. 28
Where: Gallup Park
Prices: Single participant, $15; Group of 10, $10 per person
Also: Refreshments will be served at the event. A raffle and prize for the winner of the race also are part of the festivities. On-site check in begins at 9 a.m. Race starts at 10 a.m.
To register:
How you can help: Because Camp Kesem provides both year-round support and a free week of summer camp to children affected by a parent’s cancer at absolutely no cost to the families, monetary donations are greatly appreciated and necessary to run the organization. However, there are many other ways to help support Camp Kesem by spreading the word in areas they have not yet reached, publicizing their mission, and offering support to run the many events throughout the year.
More information:

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