From October 24-28, members of the Mount St. Dominic Academy community traveled to Casco, Maine to serve families with terminally-ill children at Camp Sunshine. Students Catherine Browne ’21, Madison Otterbein ’20, Sabrina Palumbo ’20, and Isabella Vescera ’21 were on the service trip with Sister Lena Picillo, OP and Sister Eleanor Uhl, OP.
Camp Sunshine is just what the name entails. A happy place for reasons that may not seem it. A place where any negative instantly becomes a positive, such as rain being called “liquid sunshine.”
Camp founders Anna and Larry Gould were vacationing on Point Sebago Lake when they saw a heartfelt documentary about a camp for kids with cancer. The clip highlighted an interview with a disease-stricken boy talking about the limitations created by his sickness. When asked by a reporter what the worst part of his illness was, he did not provide the response that many would expect. Instead, he explained that he was merely saddened that he could not join his friends in their summer endeavors and activities. This simple statement encouraged the couple to embark on a journey that has affected the lives of families since 1984.
The Goulds created an environment where families with children who are living with terminal illnesses can share in their experiences while simultaneously relieving them of their stressors so that they can obtain a moment of peace that they cannot typically enjoy between doctors appointments and day-to-day tasks.
When the first camp session kicked off, 43 children diagnosed with various cancers were gathered together on the beautiful grounds in Casco, Maine. After the camp’s renowned success, the Goulds were inspired to keep growing with the monetary help of sponsors, recommendations from medical centers, and the love of volunteers, which allows the program to run without putting strain on families who are already dealing with tremendous pressure, physically, emotionally, and financially.
Now, Camp Sunshine has more than 25 sessions annually and has served 3,000 family members. They have programs with mixed diagnoses, a week dedicated to oncology patients, a bereavement session, and much more. Despite the sadness that surrounds the mission of the camp, it is run in a way where these devastating issues are not felt, as a place where happiness is fostered.
Upon arrival, Mount volunteers collected all of the information needed along with their T-shirts and headed to their rooms. Once they got situated, they went to a couple of meetings to learn more about their duties as volunteers and they were briefed on some of the campers illnesses. Later, they reported to their assigned volunteer rooms. These groups were split into Nursery, Tot Lot, 6-8, 9-12, Teens, Adults, Arts and Crafts, and many more.
Sr. Lena and Vescera were in the Nursery/Tot Lot group, Otterbein and Palumbo volunteered with the 9-12 group, Browne worked in the Arts and Crafts room with campers of all ages, and Sr. Eleanor prepared the meals for those attendance.
Every night, there were new events planned for the families, volunteers, and staff. On the first evening, there was a movie night with a little treat of a family bonfire to roast marshmallows. The following night, some of the campers performed in a talent show with singing, dancing, or even playing basketball. The camp also prepared a time where the families went around dressed up in their Halloween costumes for trick or treating. This was followed by a masquerade ball filled with dancing and music.
Camp Sunshine is a place where there is something for everyone to do. From painting or swimming to playing sports, each camper found an activity to enjoy. There was always an event to attend and a new camper to meet. Camp Sunshine created an environment for families that are suffering through the unimaginable to just have fun and spend time with each other and the Mount students and chaperones are forever impacted by their long weekend of service.
The excerpts included below are part of an opinion piece that details student reflections on the Camp Sunshine experience. Click here for the full length article.
Catherine Browne ‘21
Camp Sunshine 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, 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 faces 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 until I go back.
Madison Otterbein ‘20
Camp Sunshine has become very important to me and I feel so incredibly lucky for every moment and experience I had there. I know every child or parent who 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.
Sabrina Palumbo ‘20
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.
Isabella Vescera ‘21
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.