By David DeWeaver
It feels awkward asking Devin Cain about the day in first grade when his mother passed away from breast cancer. But he won’t feel awkward telling you about it.
Cain, a senior mechanical engineering student, has told the story many times. He’s become heavily involved in cancer walks and promoting breast cancer awareness in the years since. But it wasn’t until his sophomore year of college that he realized he could draw upon his pain and loss to help other children affected by a parent’s cancer.
These children feel lonely and misunderstood, he realized. Parents busy battling cancer often can’t give their children the attention they need.
“It feels very lonely when kids at school don’t know what your life at home is like. On days like Mother’s Day, or my birthday, or when I’m performing in a show and my mom can’t be in the audience, days like that are when it kind of hurts the most,” Cain said.
So in 2016 Cain, along with his friend Alexander Tran, a senior finance and information systems major, started the University of Maryland’s Camp Kesem chapter. Camp Kesem is a nationwide nonprofit that operates five-night sleepaway camps, totally free of charge for children affected by a parent’s cancer.
UMD’s chapter, located at Camp St. Charles in southern Maryland, offers kids fun-filled days of ziplining, rock climbing, arts and crafts, nature exploration and more. But most importantly, the camp allows the kids to feel a sense of community.
“They’re able to experience something that they’ve never experienced before and that’s feeling understood,” said Logan Dechter, a junior psychology major and volunteer coordinator for Camp Kesem.
So far the camp has grown through word of mouth, but Cain appealed to judges at the Do Good Challenge this year, asking for additional funds that could be put towards marketing. Camp Kesem ended up winning a second place prize and audience choice prize, taking home $4,000 in total.
Cain was thrilled with the outcome and plans to use the money to record a promotional video that could be shared through email and social media. He says that the expansion of Camp Kesem benefits everybody, not only the campers but the volunteer counselors as well, all of whom are UMD students.
“A lot of our volunteers say this is the most meaningful thing that they’ve ever done. It gives the volunteers… a really rewarding sense of fulfillment knowing they’re making an impact,” Cain said.
Dechter, who had volunteered at the very first camp, agreed.
“They honestly really inspired me,” Dechter said of the campers. “No matter what’s going on in my life I can remember their strength… and remember that these kids have these really difficult situations and they’re still able to laugh and play and have a great time.”
Cain, who’s graduating later this month, is exploring several possible positions with socially conscious engineering companies. He’ll be leaving Camp Kesem behind, but is confident he’s brought in enough underclassmen to keep the camp running for years to come.
When asked about his colleague’s legacy, Tran had nothing but kind words.
“[Devin] brings a sort of energy that cannot be compared. He inspires and uplifts others to work towards the best possible outcomes for our campers. It has been a pleasure working with Devin over the past years,” said Tran.