Students Reflect on Life-Changing Camp Sunshine Experience


Catherine Browne:

When we were welcomed by the bright scenery that was Camp Sunshine, I automatically knew that it was going to be one of the best experiences of my life. It is such an incredible environment full of happiness and positivity, that everyone seems to be radiating with sunshine. I did not see one person without the biggest smile on their face. Campers and their families would be racing from one activity to the next. Volunteers walking around with their bright yellow shirts on, which would reflect the overwhelming amount of happiness that we all felt. I was able to go with three of my classmates who made the experience that much more memorable. We all roomed together and there was never a situation where we were not enjoying our time together. 

Back home, I found myself having to explain all about Camp Sunshine and everyone would always look at me with a sad look on their face because they thought it sounded like a very difficult place to go to. However, I would passionately explain to them that it was the furthest from a sad environment. Camp Sunshine is nothing but happiness, positivity, and sunshine. It can be heartbreaking to think why the families were actually at the Camp. But that did not stop anyone from shining bright with happiness. The saddest part of the whole trip was leaving. When I came back home, it took me over a week to fully get back into the swing of things because I quickly got so acclimated to living each day at Camp Sunshine. It almost felt like a fantasy land because everyone was always so happy and positive. There was no stress of school and tests, it was just five people from the Mount, the families and myself. The environment that I was exposed to at Camp Sunshine is one that I have never been in before. 

On the final day of Camp, I witnessed a volunteer sitting next to one of the campers as she drew an incredible picture of a haunted house. While the camper was drawing, she spoke with the volunteer about having to say goodbye. A wave of sadness seemed to wash over both individuals once they realized that they had to say goodbye. They both made a plan to say their farewells that night to ensure that they got to see each other one last time. This volunteer and camper only spent 4 days together and they already seemed to share such a close bond that they did not want to lose. That is the definition of Camp Sunshine. It allows you to form relationships with people that you never thought you would meet. But it also brings you closer to people that you may already know. That is exactly what Madison, Sabrina, Isabella and I did because we now share a special bond that no one can understand without actually being there. They are true friends and I will forever cherish the memories that we made together. I will never forget the incredible memories that the four of us made, along with Sister Lena, Sister Eleanor and the incredible campers and their families. I would go back to Camp Sunshine in a heartbeat to see the bright smiles on everyone’s face and witness the amazing impact that it leaves on every single person’s life that steps through the door, even my own. I am forever grateful for this amazing opportunity and I am counting down the days to go back next time. Camp Sunshine now holds a very special place in my heart. I will never forget the incredible people that I met and the unforgettable memories that I am so grateful to have made.


Sabrina Palumbo: 

Camp Sunshine has been a life changing experience for me. After going in the summer, I knew I had to go back for Halloween weekend. Although the activities we did were much different than last time, I still felt the same way as I did over the summer: grateful. All of the families there are so happy and appreciative for everything they have that it makes me realize I am so lucky to have the life I have. Not one family looked sad or upset; everyone was having a great time and enjoying every moment that they had at camp. The best part about the whole experience is having families walk up to you and tell you how thankful they are for what you are doing. I didn’t realize how happy this experience makes these families; the fact that they can get away from all of their problems and stresses for a short amount of time is so important, and the fact that we get to make sure that they have nothing to worry about so they can just enjoy themselves is really special. But even though we are helping them, they don’t realize how much they are helping us by showing us their strength and determination to get through such a difficult experience. The entire experience is truly inspiring, and I encourage anyone who ever gets the chance to go volunteer. 


Madison Otterbein: 

Camp Sunshine is about giving families who go through unbelievably stressful and scary situations, a chance to get away from their worries, even if it is sometimes for only a short amount of time. Camp Sunshine has not only become a getaway for families with their own struggles, but it has also become a getaway for myself. After two years of attending Camp Sunshine’s Halloween weekend, my love for this place has grown each day, even when I am not there. Camp Sunshine has become very important to me and I feel so incredibly lucky for every moment and experience I have had there. I know every child or parent who have attended Camp Sunshine have also felt the same. There is this overwhelmingly strong sense of love and warmth from the moment you step onto campus to the moment you leave. Camp becomes a home for every person there, no matter who you are and what you have been through. I am beyond grateful to have been able to experience something as amazing as Camp Sunshine, not once, but twice. Every visit makes a difference and I truly believe that. I strongly encourage anyone to volunteer and experience the light that is Camp Sunshine.


Isabella Vescera:  

Recently, Sister Lena approached Catherine Browne and I about going on a service trip to Camp Sunshine. Before she mentioned it to me, I had heard about this trip from a fellow teammate and Mount alumna, Grace Mittenzwei, who proposed this opportunity to Sr. Lena last year. Immediately after I left Sr. Lena’s office, I asked my mom if I could attend and was eager to partake in this life changing experience.

From the moment I stepped onto the campus I was immediately engulfed in the positive energy radiating from every facet of Camp Sunshine. Since I was there for the Halloween session, the facility was decorated for such. We prepared our rooms and attended an orientation in order to best prepare ourselves for what lay ahead. We each were assigned to a family to help settle in. As I awaited for mine to arrive I accompanied Sr. Lena and grew closer with this family as the weekend progressed. My family comprised of a girl who was 5 years out of treatment, eager to return next year as a volunteer, accompanied by her parents and sibling. The deep love this family expressed for Camp Sunshine made me more eager for my time there. After a jaw-dropping magic show, we concluded the night with a camp favorite, a song and dance to “Hands Up.”

I got to experience Camp Sunshine through means of the Tot Lot and Nursery, which means my job was to work with newborns to five year olds. It was truly a sight to see. These kids who did not know each other before the session started, left with such tight bonds with the other children and the volunteers. The children who were ill were the most compassionate and loving to all they encountered. I became attached to every single kid that I worked with that weekend, which made leaving that much harder. Watching strangers become lifelong friends was inspirational and highlighted the fact that these people used their detriments as a connecting factor in their solidarity. When Monday morning came, my classmates and I waited in our packed-up room and reminisced about our experiences.

As I reflect on my trip, I have come to notice that not only did I form a bond with the families and staff of Camp Sunshine, but also my peers and chaperones that accompanied me on this trip. Prior to this, I only really knew Catherine, as she is my best friend and Sr. Lena since I am heavily involved in ministry at Mount Saint Dominic. I had never met Sister Eleanor before, I only knew Sabrina from my math class, and I had seen Madison in passing. As the 7-hour car ride progressed, the ice gradually broke and by the time we arrived in Portland, we all had become so close. This weekend introduced me to so many people both close to home and also hours away. It also taught me things about myself that I did not know. Typically, I am not an emotional person so I was not expecting to feel anything extraordinary from camp. However, after hearing an upsetting story about a girl undergoing chemo, I began to shed a tear in the lunch line. As we prepared to leave, the waterworks started up again and I could not bring myself to get into the van and brace another long drive. This is due to the fact that Camp Sunshine becomes relatable to everyone.

My little cousin had leukemia at a very young age, similar to that of the kids I was working with. When I found out that my Play-dough buddy shared this disease in common with my cousin, my heart sank. Instead of wallowing in this sadness, I turned it into a more positive experience, which allowed me to relate and empathize with the child and his family. Camp Sunshine revealed so many truths about me and has changed me as a person. Everyday I wish I could go back and I talk to my friends from the trip about the inside jokes we came up with or by looking over pictures that encompass the vibe of the weekend. This is truly something I want to relive, something I am so grateful to have been a part of.

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