At 23 years old, Shelby Rubin, PA ’15, has already accomplished something most people haven’t ― the founding and running of a nonprofit organization called Camp Kesem.
During Rubin’s undergraduate career at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, she played a key role in developing and managing the Madison chapter of Camp Kesem. Through this experience she found a passion for working with nonprofits.
Camp Kesem is a free summer camp for children ages 6 to 16 whose lives have been affected by a parent’s cancer. The camp’s mission is to let kids be kids through weeklong activities, including sports and arts and craft projects. But most of all, the camp offers children the opportunity to share their stories and experiences with kids just like them. The word Kesem means ‘magic’ in Hebrew; the goal of the camp is to bring magic to families coping with cancer.
Rubin became involved with Camp Kesem during her freshman year of college. Coming from a small private high school in Minnetonka, Minn., she wanted to find an organization she could connect with.
“I was so used to living in a small community and being a leader,” said Rubin. “I felt like a small fish in a huge pond at UW-Madison. I really struggled to find my purpose.”
That soon changed when she received an email with the subject line: “Do you love kids? Do you hate cancer? Apply to Camp Kesem today!”
“This really spoke to me because I love kids, and a few of my family members have had cancer,” explained the first-year physician assistant student at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “I decided to take a chance and attend, and, within a few minutes of hearing the presentation, I knew it was something I wanted to be part of.”
Rubin and eight other students put many hours into launching the chapter at UW-Madison, one of 62 Camp Kesem’s across the country. The first Madison camp, held in the summer of 2010, hosted 15 campers. By summer 2012, when Rubin graduated, more than 66 kids participated. This year, 120 campers will attend.
During the first year, she was responsible for planning and managing camp logistics. For the remaining three years of her college career, Rubin served as camp director, overseeing operations and the other executive board positions.
“Camp Kesem is one of the best things I’ve ever done, and it has completely changed my life,” she said. “Aside from making me a better person, I know this experience will also make me a better clinician.”
During her time at camp, Rubin learned valuable clinical skills, as well as the ability to collaborate with others to create the best outcome for the greater good.
“The PA program and Camp Kesem have made it clear to me that oncology is a field of medicine that I am very interested in,” she said. “No matter what specialty area I am working in, I always seem to gravitate back to the oncology population and their families.”
This summer, Rubin will begin the second year of her PA program and dive into her clinical rotations.
“I am really looking forward to applying my skills in a clinical setting and providing care to patients in a different capacity,” she said. “My experience with Camp Kesem has completely changed my view of medicine. I understand now that it is important to see the whole person to provide the best care possible.”
Rubin is still actively involved with Camp Kesem through fundraising and mentoring current camp counselors. In addition to her work with Camp Kesem, last year she assisted the nonprofit organization, Hearts and Hands of Minnesota, with their fundraising efforts.