Lauren Costello was sleep-deprived, lacking in energy and smelling like the woods. Like many of her fellow student leaders, she was struggling to find the enthusiasm for the last two days of Camp Kesem UR 2018.

Then, a veteran camper approached Costello with a card.

“Thank you for your hard work year after year to put camp on for us,” the card read. “I would not be the person I am today without Camp Kesem, the friends I’ve made through it and the experiences I’ve had.”

With that card, Costello and fellow student leaders regained the energy to carry them through both camp and their biggest annual fundraising effort -- Giving Tuesday.

On Giving Tuesday, which fell on Nov. 27 this year, UR's Camp Kesem chapter raised $17,795, beating its target total of $15,000. Eighty-five percent of these funds will go to planning a week of camp for 100 children in the Richmond community who have a parent diagnosed with cancer, Costello wrote in an email. 

Camp Kesem is led by college students and offers innovative, fun-filled programs for children with parents affected by cancer. It provides a place where children can be with peers who have similar familial situations and spend some time being a child, away from the stress their family often faces. 

Camp Kesem UR is held annually in Westview on the James River in Goochland, Virginia. The site has residential cabins, a ropes course and a big lake for waterslides, kayaking and paddle-boarding. 

The camp also brings in a special guest each year. This past summer, it was Critters and Conservations -- a live animal show that teaches children about animal behavior, basic biology, the food chain, biodiversity and conservation, Costello said. 

Grace Lynch, a development coordinator for Camp Kesem UR, values the small acts that a counselor can offer. She recalled a new camper who was shy and struggling to open up. Lynch offered to braid her hair one evening, and the girl shyly nodded her head in response. They chatted here and there, but it was the care Lynch had shown that made the camper feel comfortable. From that moment on, the camper was sure to hug Lynch before she went to bed each night. 

Camp Kesem’s mission is what inspired senior Hayden Hilbert to make an online donation to Camp Kesem UR on Giving Tuesday this year. 

“My sorority does a lot of work to help children with cancer and detrimental illness, but children are also impacted by parents’ illnesses,” Hilbert said. “Since I’m committed to looking out for the children affected by illness, it seemed like a natural donation to make.”

The 2018 fundraising goal increased from $10,000 in 2017 to reflect chapter growth, Costello said. The goal is determined by the directors and development coordinators for the UR program and a supervisor at Camp Kesem Nationals.

Camp Kesem UR runs almost entirely on donations and uses Giving Tuesday as an opportunity to gather support from the university and Richmond families, Costello said.

This is done through Camp Kesem UR members' personal fundraising pages on Facebook, which are filled with images and anecdotes of camp experiences. 

“The official Camp Kesem UR Facebook page shared updates for every $1,000 raised to keep family and friends updated,” Costello wrote in an email. 

Camper families and the Camp Kesem UR advisory board, including biology professor Dan Pierce and administrative coordinator of annual giving Jordan Hunt, also help to fundraise, Costello said.

Lynch, who is studying abroad in Ireland, was nervous about coordinating Giving Tuesday without being able to call or talk in person to anyone who would be donating. But with the help of her coordinator team, committee members and a month of preparation, it worked, she wrote.

“I stayed up until 5 a.m. my time to watch the numbers go up, and I’m so happy that I did,” Lynch said.

Contact senior news writer Louise Howorth at louise.howorth@richmond.edu.