Sunday, June 21, 2009

Still Shining

Long Time No Blog
It has been one week of fun, exhaustion and heartwarming memories. Our second week of SummerCorps has come to a conclusion and none of us could have predicted just how special the past week has been. The crew, Tinu, Shu, Amy Z. and I (along with alumni Marissa Ferber) traveled to Camp Sunshine in Casco, Maine last Sunday for Retinoblastoma week. Normally, I would have kept you all updated daily, however, camp is no place for wireless internet access, nor did any of us have the energy to go to the computer lab at the end of the day so I will attempt to re-cap the whole week in the one blog. Just a warning, it may be long but in no way will it be able to truly capture the moment, therefore I highly suggest you sign up to become a volunteer at Camp Sunshine to get the full effect:

What is Camp Sunshine? – The Organization Break Down
Camp Sunshine is a place for families who have children with life threatening illnesses to be silly, reconnect and get support. The program is devoted to the whole family, including the child with the illness, their siblings and their parents. The camp works around weeklong sessions devoted to different illnesses (for example, this past week was dedicated to children with Retinoblastoma) creating a common bond between each family that is there. There are suite accommodations on site, meals provided, a pool, water front access to Sebago Lake (kayaks, paddle boats and canoes included), 9 hole mini golf, a rock climbing wall, a tree top challenge course, and plenty of activities and fun for the whole family to enjoy.

The program provides different activities for each age group attending the camp including the adults (who were certainly louder than the Tots might I add). From 9am-Noon and then from 1 or 2pm until 5pm each child and parent are signed into their respective group based on age where volunteers lead group activities, arts and crafts and plain old fun times. The families regroup for meals together and a night there are shows, dances and camp songs.

The camp Sunshine seems to have thought of everything to make these families relaxed and taken care of, with plenty of things to do, place to relax and time to be together and get to know new people who are in similar situations. The staff kept the camp running smoothly without a hint of stress or agitation and the tone of the whole experience was calm and welcoming.

Although there are some staff members, most of the people who run the camp are the volunteers, in fact, during our week there were over one hundred volunteers. Volunteers at Camp Sunshine stay on site as well in similar suites to the families and are appointed the responsibility of leading activities and caring for the families. The volunteers are also given three meals a day along with the families and access to all of the fun things that the families are (we were actually encouraged to use them with the families!).

What is Retinoblastoma?
Retinoblastoma is a childhood cancer located in the eye. Although it may be treated with chemo therapy most often the affected eye is taken out completely to avoid the spreading of the cancer. It is most common is young children and has the highest survival rate of all childhood cancers in developed countries. However, in underdeveloped countries the survival rate is quite low. The cancer can happen in one or both eyes and can lead to complete blindness of the child. During the orientation the on-site doctor spoke to all of the volunteers about retinoblastoma and after explaining the medical facts he asked us all what we liked to do as a child and then had us reflect on how we would have to adapt to those favorite things if we were blind. This exercise gave us all an opportunity to think from the child’s perspective. To get a better idea about what retinoblastoma really is go to:

So What Did We Do All Week? – The Experience Break Down

First and Foremost, Getting there:
This won’t take long to explain…I drove, there was a lot of rain, white knuckles all the way there…sorry group!!!!!! But we made it safely (a mere 15 minutes late) and no one got car sick.

Our Tasks:
After completing orientation each of us were assigned our task for the week. Tinu, Shu and Amy Z. were assigned to food service, meaning they helped to prepare and distribute each much needed and deeply appreciated meal.

Here is a quote from Amy Z. about her time in the kitchen:
“Spending a week at Camp Sunshine was a very rewarding experience. I worked in food service for the week which consisted of helping to prep for the meal, serve the meal, and clean up afterwards three times a day. Our goal in food service was to provide the best possible eating experience for the families. The days were long and I had had never before realized how much work food service is, I have a new respect for the people who work in food service now. My favorite part of food service was the breaks that we had because they allowed me an opportunity to spend time with the campers. Overall working at Camp Sunshine was great and I cannot wait to go back.”

I was assigned to the tot lot with the 3-5 year olds that also accompanied the nursery with the infants. My goal was to keep noses cleaned, diapers fresh and tears dried. Each kid had their own personality and it was hard not to become attached to their carefree approach to life and fearless ambitions to jump father, swing higher, and run faster than their little bodies are capable of. They certainly kept all of the volunteer’s busy pulling wagons, coloring, building towers, knocking towers down, cleaning up blocks and chasing those go getters.

As a group we attended the talent show, the costume party and the celebration show. Shu performed the best salsa dancing I have ever witnessed with one of the older campers and we all sung out hearts out during the last song at Camp Sunshine (Tinu tried his best to keep the beat during the performances.)

It was one of those weeks I will always remember and I am looking forward to going again next year to see the families that come back. I highly suggest you take a trip to Sunshine camp and volunteer for a week.

Thank you Camp Sunshine for creating such a fun and welcoming place for families and volunteers alike!

Adventures to come:
Tomorrow we will be going to Seafarer’s Friends in Chelsea, MA – follow our adventures each day as we are back online!

Check out where we will be spending out 3rd week of SummerCorps at

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