Educating your community – Camp Sunshine edition

For my final paper for my first graduate-level course in Multicultural Perspectives of Counseling, I am writing a proposal to better prepare students for service trips. I became interested in this topic because I had such a positive experience in the preparation for an international service trip I went on in college through our pre-trip readings and discussions, which I believe made all of the difference. I feel that there is work to be done in how to make people’s experiences on service trips more sustainable and provide education to others in the community, in order to ensure that people do not go on a trip and just leave the experience there, but can bring it home into their daily lives.

I believe it is important to educate yourself and others on the cause you are standing for. Whether this be learning about the economy in the country you are serving in or learning the facts about an illness you are supporting, these are ways you can continue to stand in solidarity with the people you are serving. This shows respect to those people rather than seeing them as lesser than you, or that you are greater than them for providing them with your help. I think this is a common misconception – that we feel badly for those that we help and that we are above them for providing them with a service. This why at Assumption College we called our trips “service immersion” trips rather than “mission” trips, because the language is much more empowering to those that we are serving. “Service immersion” takes the stance that we are walking with the people and enjoying their presence rather than looking at it as a task or that they somehow need our help because they are lesser than us and we are bringing something to them. The latter options are not true, and this viewpoint can be avoided with proper preparation, education, and reflection. I believe it is possible to maintain in solidarity with people we serve after we leave their presence, which is why I am writing this blog post. I am writing this post for people to learn more facts about Camp Sunshine, Retinoblastoma, and childhood cancer as a whole. I hope you can learn something or be inspired in some way 🙂

Camp Sunshine

Ever since I was little, I dreamed about being a teacher for kids in the hospital, which is where my passion for becoming a child life specialist started. My senior year in high school at Bishop Feehan, there was an information meeting about taking a group to volunteer at Camp Sunshine. I was hooked from the meeting and couldn’t believe that there was such a place for families to go to. So, what exactly is Camp Sunshine? Camp is a place where families can go to find comfort and community in some of the most trying times of their child’s life, and unfortunately, even after the child potentially passes away. Camp encompasses the entire family and recognizes that illness impacts beyond just the sick child, and can leave siblings and parents to be just as impacted. The families yearn to meet people who “get it” by meeting other parents or siblings who have a sick child in their family. Moreover, the campers get to be just kids beyond the label of having a life-limiting illness by doing fun activities throughout the week. Even though everyone there has something in common, they have the freedom to not let this define them. The camp is free to attend for families with meals and lodging included, has parent support groups, talent shows, costume parties, campouts, movie nights, a beautiful waterfront on Sebago Lake, a wishboat ceremony, the Camp Sunshine song, and endless friendships. Each week has a different diagnosis to choose from to find the week that best suits the family’s needs, such as organ transplant, lupus, low-grade brain tumor, Shwachman–Diamond syndrome, various types of cancer, and more.

This week was especially humbling for me. It was my third time volunteering at Camp and first time at Retinoblastoma week. Therefore, I was not a “regular”. I wasn’t going to know any of the families already like some other volunteers might have. This can seem intimidating when people already know each other, but this is humbling because in the end it is not about you. There will be new families, too. There will be opportunities to meet people throughout the week and form bonds. Of course part of camp is being there to have fun with the campers and learn from them, but the other part is just sitting back and taking it in. Throughout the week I was able to meet families that I have grown to admire even from only chatting with them for a few minutes. I was able to see kids come into camp not wanting to leave their parents’ side and go home not wanting to leave their new friends. I read a mother’s post on Facebook that her daughter wished at the wishboat ceremony on the last night of camp that she could come back as a volunteer someday, and another family writing that they hope to be volunteers in the future. This is what camp is all about. I was able to make some cute buddies in the tot lot age group this week, but I was also able to realize that it’s not about me. It’s not about the cute pictures you take with the kids and it’s not about always having 5 kids holding onto your legs. It’s about the simple and humble moments journaling by the Lake or having a girl who was once shy warm-up to you and show you her prizes she won at mini golf. It was also amazing to meet so many passionate volunteers throughout the week. We all got along so well and formed a bond where everyone was included in our dance parties and card playing shenanigans.

I invite you to watch this video about Camp Sunshine to get further insight on the magic it brings to so many families:

Retinoblastoma, other eye cancers, and Childhood Cancer as a whole

Camp Sunshine serves families with a wide variety of illnesses. The first two times I volunteered at Camp, I attended Lupus sessions, which was a disease I had never heard of before and was excited to learn about. This year, I volunteered at Retinoblastoma week, which is a lesser known of the childhood cancers. Some campers had other types of eye cancers or cataracts.

fast facts about Retinoblastoma (RB):

  • Quoted from the AAO: “Retinoblastoma is cancer of the eye. It begins in the retina, the layer of nerve cells lining the back of the eye. It happens when nerve cells in the retina change, growing in size and number. The cells eventually form a tumor. The cells usually spread in and around the eye.”
  • RB is usually diagnosed before age 3
  • More than one family member may end up having RB because it can be passed on through genetics, but is not always. Some of the families at camp had siblings who both had it or had a parent with RB, but other families just had one child with it.
  • RB can be treated with chemo, removal of the eye and replacement with a prosthetic eye, or laser therapy. Other treatment options are also available.
  • The prognosis of the disease can vary, with some children being in remission after chemo, some children needing a prosthetic, and others becoming blind. This all depends on various factors, such as how early in disease progression the cancer is caught and treated, and whether or not the cancer cells spread to other areas of the body.
  • 3/4 of children have RB in one eye, and 1/4 have RB in both eyes.
  • EYE EXAMS ARE IMPORTANT TO DETECT WARNING SIGNS! As with any other aspect of your health, make sure you listen to your body and go to your doctor!


more quick facts about childhood cancer:

  • I believe it is important to note that children can have many other chronic conditions besides cancer, such as genetic disorders, cardiac or other organ issues, cystic fibrosis, diabetes, and many others.
  • Even though childhood cancer is something that is well known, it only gets 4% of funding from the NCI.
  • September is national childhood cancer awareness month
  • There are many non-profits you can dedicate your talents to, such as WHY ME & Sherry’s House, Alex’s Lemonade Stand, and Icing Smiles.

I hope that this post helped you to learn something new or inspired you to take some action in support of children and families. This is in no shape or way me trying to brag about what I am doing, infact, it is quite opposite of that. I feel that we should be able to share our passions without the fear of others assuming that we are bragging. Why can’t we cheer each other on and let people be passionate about their vocations in life? That is, afterall, one of the reasons we were put on this earth. I feel that informing others about your passions is the most humble thing to do, rather than just posting pictures about it and not continuing to tell the story. I wanted to learn something from Camp and become more informed, rather than just going and leaving. By becoming more educated, we are helping to provide sustainability to those that we serve. See you soon, those three yellow doors.

#GoCampSunshine #HandsUp


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