Start of new Camp Kesem chapter at Whitworth University: Whitworth students to assist children of parents with cancer

by Annaclare Splettstoeszer | Staff Writer

Kyle Schmit ’21(left) shaved his head to celebrate his father’s (right) last day of chemotherapy the day after Christmas in 2020. Schmit is one of the cofounders of the Whitworth chapter of Camp Kesem, an organization that supports children impacted by a parent’s cancer by providing mentorship, community and a free week of summer camp.

A group of students have received permission to start a Whitworth chapter of the national Camp Kesem organization which supports children impacted by a parent’s cancer by providing mentorship, community, and a free week of summer camp. The highly rigorous approval process has been completed by just 131 other colleges and universities across the United States.  

The Camp Kesem National organization is responsible for helping train student leaders to be camp counselors, but otherwise, each chapter operates as an independent body.  

Each college chapter forms a student leadership board that develops partnerships with local businesses, hospitals, and cancer organizations. The leadership board works year-round to raise money, plan camp activities, and train students to be camp counselors in preparation for the flagship week of Camp Kesem. 

Kyle Schmit, a senior finance major at Whitworth, is one of the cofounders of Camp Kesem at Whitworth. Last April, his dad was diagnosed with brain cancer. 

“I found myself thinking, well, if this is so hard for me as a 22-year-old with a good support system to deal with… I can only imagine what this is like for a six-year-old kid,” he said.  

Schmit remembered learning about an organization called Camp Kesem and became interested in starting a Camp Kesem chapter at Whitworth to provide support for kids whose parents are battling cancer.  

“Kesem is an opportunity for kids who far too often have had really their childhood taken away from them,” he said. “It’s a place where they can go and have a ton of fun and kind of reclaim that childhood that they so much deserve, and at the same time be surrounded by people from similar perspectives and similar life experiences that they can really share and open up with because they know that everyone there is going through the same thing.” 

Working with his advisor, school of business faculty member Duff Bergquist, Schmidt was eventually connected with McKenna Brown, a sophomore elementary education major, who became his fellow cofounder. It was Brown, Schmit says, who really “carried this effort” during the application process. 

Brown and Schmit had just two weeks to gather the necessary materials for the application before it was due on November 30th. Among the requirements for applying were demonstrated interest of 25 “community contacts” such as businesses, a minimum of five local hospitals and cancer organizations and at least 50 Whitworth students interested in working in leadership or as camp counselors.  

Brown said she was inspired by how many Whitworth students were interested in the club. She said the response from the Whitworth student body at one of the general interest meetings was overwhelming.

“I remember we were in the meeting, and I asked ‘okay, would anybody be interested in either being on a leadership position for this or participating [as a counselor]?’ and every single person in the room raised their hand,” Brown said. 

Their application was recently accepted in February, and Brown and Schmit are now working to charter their club with Whitworth. 

Schmit said he thinks that the Camp Kesem at Whitworth program perfectly fits the university’s mission statement. 

“I can’t think of a better opportunity in my time here, to really live that mission [to honor God, follow Christ, and serve humanity] and be involved in our community and to be more than just words about what we want to be,” Schmit said. 

Brown says that Camp Kesem at Whitworth anticipates conducting its first camp session in the summer of 2022. In the meantime, they will be busy creating the student leadership board, developing community contacts, and raising funds. 

To find out more about leadership positions, donate, or serve with Camp Kesem at Whitworth, contact McKenna Brown at