Grateful faculty member spearheads camp for kids impacted by a parent's cancer

By Margo Kissell, university news and communications

Anne Roma, visiting professor and co-director of the master of arts in social work program, has been instrumental in trying to start a new chapter of Camp Kesem in this area. The free summer camp is for youth impacted by a parent’s cancer.

Miami is among five universities that recently received enough online voting to proceed with developing a Camp Kesem chapter. The organization was founded at Stanford University in 2000 and has since expanded to more than 115 chapters across the country.

Why did you want to start a college chapter at Miami?Anne Roma

Anne Roma

My two children went to a Camp Kesem last summer when I was in the middle of treatment for cancer. Their experience was life-changing as they witnessed peers who were experiencing similar trauma. Connecting with others who were experiencing something similar was impactful in a way that other supportive family and friends just couldn’t be. Even for me, as their mom who was experiencing the illness myself, I couldn’t support them in the same way that the counselors and campers did at Camp Kesem. I am eternally grateful to the camp for supporting my family in our time of need, and my hope is to offer the same support for other local children and families.

Have you started planning for the first Camp Kesem?

We are already in planning for our camp even though it won’t take place until summer 2020. Our next step is to build a leadership team of undergraduates and an advisory board of faculty and local community members to raise the $40,000 needed to start the camp. Since the camp is free for all campers, we will raise money not only for the camp but to train undergraduates to be camp counselors. The plan is to collaborate with a local camp location within 45 minutes from campus that can host the camp. Student organizers will choose the week next summer based on their availability and Miami’s schedule of study away programs.

How will Miami students be involved, and what do you hope they take away from the experience?

Students are in charge of the program! I brought the idea to my Introduction to Social Work course. Several motivated and dynamic students in the course expressed interest and we held an information session that attracted a lot of attention from a variety of undergrads. This is one of the most innovative aspects of Camp Kesem because having the camp run by the students means that they build amazing leadership skills in the process of offering this life-changing experience for young people.

How will the counselors work with the children?

The overall focus is not for the undergraduate camp counselors to process trauma with the campers. This is beyond their expertise, but they are taught about trauma and the importance of how camp can help the kids feel a connection to their peers, the counselors and even Camp Kesem as a whole.Camp Kesem logo This connection to the group allows them to not feel so alone amidst their fears about their sick parent. This process was pretty profound for my kids, who generally rejected the processing my husband and I attempted. They returned home from camp reporting that listening and knowing that other kids there were in the same boat as them had comforted them. The undergrads are given this type of information and training.

The camp does employ a mental health professional in the event that a child needs extra support, but the focus of the camp is to help the kids enjoy themselves with others who know how they feel. They do all kinds of classic fun summer camp activities like swimming, ropes courses, arts and crafts, talent shows, singing, making s'mores, making tie-dye shirts, face painting. The list goes on.

Where will the funding come from?

We will raise the funds with a grassroots effort. There has already been talk of organizing a gala and a 5K run on campus. Students have been incredibly creative in our brainstorming phase, including using social media. When we raise $40,000, it will enable 40 local kids to attend camp.

Is there a way for other members of the Miami community, such as faculty, staff and alumni, to get involved?

We would be thrilled to have anyone interested in helping us. (Send an email to for more information.) The incredible thing about cancer is it has touched the lives of so many people. If anyone is moved to help us, they should definitely reach out. There are so many ways to get involved, from engaging with our advisory board to event planning and mentoring students. We will also need lots of help from students across the university, including majors in business, the sciences and the arts. The skills that students will bring from these different majors will be integral to the success of the program.