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The Richter Center Ambassadors

The student group for the Jan & Bud Richter Center at Fresno State

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Summer of Service

A WEEK OF MAGIC

Alex Photo 11
(Photo credit Fresno State Camp Kesem)

 

There is always one service that changes you. Sometimes it’s expected, sometimes it’s not. Camp Kesem, also referred to as Magic, is a place where children with parents affected by cancer can feel comfortable and be themselves. It is also a place that many children in the Central Valley were able to call home this past summer. Camp Kesem is family.

A little over a year ago, myself and a group of my classmates at Fresno State began planning Camp Kesem. We divided up the responsibilities and I was given the task of Volunteer Coordinator, which made me responsible for finding and training our camp counselors. Some other positions included Operations, which focuses on the mechanics of the camp (such as where it will be held and what activities will take place) and Outreach, which connects our mission with other pupils. Our outreach workers are also imperative in making this camp happen as they help organize our nurses and psychologists; a very important part of our team. I wish that I could say that Camp Kesem is a week where these kids can escape cancer, and the fears that come with having a parent affected by cancer, but often times there is no escaping that reality. Kesem is, however, a way for the children to connect with those who understand them, and accept them for who they are and what they have been through. Personally, I think that is the most beautiful concept of all.

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(Photo credit Fresno State Camp Kesem)

Each one of our Camp Coordinators and Counselors poured an enormous amount of passion and time into this year’s planning, and it showed. While we all worked incredibly hard, regardless of the amount of work put in, no one knew what to expect as the opening date for Camp Kesem approached. We each had an idea of what was to come, but we did not know what our kids were going to be like. Who knew whether they would get along, or if they were going to have fun? Once we finally arrived, though, we experienced and learned much more than we had ever anticipated. The names and background stories that we had previously known only in print now had faces, and camp names, and laughs.

Camp Kesem was real; the kids were real, and the magic became very real. Such a camp exists because what most people don’t realize is that while their parents are fighting cancer; these children are fighting their own battles. These battles include fear, confusion and anger; on top of whatever they already may be dealing with in their schools and at home. What is so amazing about Camp Kesem is that it brings together all of these kids who, for once, feel understood and normal. They understand very well why their peer is confused, sad, and sometimes angry:

“What is cancer? Why does my mom have to have cancer? If I had McDonalds before, am I going to get cancer?”

These are all questions that my co-counselors and I had difficulty trying to answer. One thing we were taught, though, is to not be hesitant in letting them know that we didn’t have all the answers; no one does. We wish we did.

(Photo credit Fresno State Camp Kesem)
(Photo credit Fresno State Camp Kesem)

Something that set Camp Kesem apart from other camps was the feeling of empowerment – empowerment being a place of non-judgment where people could share their stories. During the middle of the week, we held an Empowerment Ceremony. Here, campers and counselors alike formed into a big circle, facing out with their eyes closed. The rest of the campers, were inside the circle. As various statements were read, such as who makes you laugh, who do you trust, campers would tap the back of the person that the statement applied to. At this ceremony, campers were able to share why cancer hurts individual and families and how Kesem and the family with Kesem was helping them cope. As a way to feel even more connected after the activity, we all turned around and looked at one another, we also used yarn, spreading it around the circle giving each person a spot to hold the yarn. We were connected together, we were family.

One night after a long day of working, leading, and taking care of our campers, I was with a group of counselors as we laid underneath the stars of Camp Wawona in Yosemite, and shared the stories of the children we had in our yurts. Along with the stories came laughter, and acknowledgement that this place truly was something special. This place, Kesem, is a place where everyone feels safe. The campers feel understood and, for the first time in a long time, they get to feel like kids.

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(Photo credit Fresno State Camp Kesem)

I learned that listening and attempting to understand can be the best thing to do. I knew these kids for a week, and my campers ranged from ages five to nine. I have been on this earth for 21 years, yet I learned more about myself and the world through these kids than I ever could have imagined. I understand that there is hurt in the world and I understand that cancer sucks and affects people both indirectly and directly. Cancer changes people. That said, I also learned that service changes people. Throughout my time of service with Camp Kesem, I saw first-hand what it means to be strong, what it truly means to be scared, and most importantly, what it means to be a kid. Kesem helped me remember why I love to serve.  I serve at Kesem because I think that every kid needs, and deserves, to be a kid. I was able to help children get through a parent’s cancer. I was able to remind my campers what it felt like to be a kid- and that is magic. The kids at Camp Kesem are the strongest people I know. They are the reason I Kesem, and they are the reason that I continue to serve.

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(Photo credit Fresno State Camp Kesem)

 

Why do you continue to serve? What does magic mean to you? What have you learned through service?

-Ambassador Alex

 

 

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Serving at Reading and Beyond

“Miss Lilli! Miss Lilli!”

I entered the small classroom at the Mosqueda Center to this cheer twice a week. Momentarily I was back in Fiji, hearing the excited voices of those children and the love and cultural exchange we’d shared. Instead I found myself at Reading and Beyond, an after-school literacy-and-more program for elementary students of Fresno.  I volunteered with this community benefit organization for my Child and Family Studies service-learning class. My job as a volunteer was to support a hired tutor as she taught a small group of students.  Little did I know a simple requirement for a service-learning course would turn into a semester plus a summer of fun!

Reading and Beyond
I’d arrive clad in my painfully bright yellow t-shirt, which boldly stated, “Reading and Beyond,” and on the back, “Empowering children and families to achieve productive, self-reliant lives.”
“Do the fish!” they’d say, remembering my first day’s focus on a book about undersea life. I started making fish faces, and my group was super impressed, so we all perfected our fish look. (I make a pretty accurate fish face, and also a shockingly accurate duck sound, but that’s a story for another day). I had fun like a big kid; the little ones followed what I did. Together, learning to read was fun and exciting! I modeled respect to the tutor and enthusiasm for the tasks at hand, so they did too.
In my literacy group were children who had fallen far behind in their reading levels, and others who were excelling students. Some spoke hardly any English. Others were fluently bilingual. It was incredible to see the group members assisting each other and growing together, despite such diversity. All of them were equally squirrely and excited after a long day at school, and I loved each one. During summer, the students would be served free lunch, then complete a rotation of literacy, fitness, and enrichment (essentially arts and crafts). I was amazed at the gains they made, even in a short time.
I learned so much from my Reading and Beyond experience, and I do hope that the children I worked with learned as well. I gained a lot of knowledge about working with children in particular, and about myself:
  • Kids can’t handle too many instructions at once. Perfecting effective teaching and classroom management strategies are now on my to-do list and will prepare me for my future as a Speech-Language Pathologist.
  • Praise means the world to children. You can see them glowing after you give them a compliment or commend them on a job well done. Even something as simple as remembering their name can excite them!
  • Likewise, children have hearts of gold. I can’t tell you how many times I heard, “Teacher, you’re pretty!” or “You’re fun!” Grown-ups don’t uplift one another as much as they should.
  • Competition excites some, but it can shut other kids down. Children lose motivation and interest in activities in which they feel they can’t succeed. So, I made a point to rub in the teamwork aspect. I learned to be the collaboration-promoter and enthusiastic cheerleader, especially at sports time.
  • Helping children overcome unfavorable behavior is pretty rewarding. For one child who refused to participate, I hand-over-hand led him in doing the task at hand: a simple art project. I just wanted him to follow directions. Afterwards, I expected him to hate me for all eternity. But instead we became friends and he respected me. That was very eye-opening.
On my last day, students gathered ’round to take a fun picture. I’ll never forget those giggles and smiles! As I said goodbye, they each flocked give me a hug; it was so special.
As a volunteer, I felt valued. My fellow volunteers and I saw the children thriving with more one-on-one attention than a staff-only environment could provide. Also, kids will teach you a thing or two!
                                  In summary, thanks for reading,
you’re pretty,
now go volunteer with kids and really make a difference!
Have you served children before? Has a child ever taught you an important lesson? How will you serve the next generation?
~Ambassador Lilliana

A Summer of Service

The end of the semester is quickly approaching, so many are asking “What are you doing this summer?” Some are traveling, working, or taking summer school courses, which are great ways to keep busy. However, summer is a time of year where most of us have a little more free time. It is okay to be lazy for a bit, but why not do something more meaningful with your summer? Why not find a way to serve your community?

volunteer
Volunteer! Photo obtained here.

There are so many places and ways to serve this summer, whether it is in an area where you hope to build a career or just a cause you are passionate about. Do something you enjoy, go regularly, and make it a habit. Last summer, I began volunteering for the Fresno Rescue Mission by serving dinner. Each time I volunteered, it felt great to have used my free time to do something positive for someone else.

So use your summer to benefit your community. A great way to find to volunteer in various areas is through HandsOn Central California. Using this website, you can browse organizations and find countless opportunities.

Finally, come visit the Richter Center in the Thomas building Room 107, email us Ambassadors at fresnostaterca@gmail.com, or call us at 559.278.7079. We would be happy to help you find a way to make a difference this summer.

Will you use your summer to serve? Where will you make a difference?

-Ambassador Heather

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