The Summit School of Ahwatukee is helping the American Cancer Society (ACS) provide relief to kids with cancer and their siblings by hosting the Sunrise Summer Fun Day Camp May 31 through June 13.
ACS started Camp Sunrise in 1983 as the first camp in Arizona for kids with cancer. The week-long event for kids ages 8 to 16 gets them out of the hospital and into the woods to experience a real summer camp with volunteers, doctors and nurses trained to handle whatever the kids may need. The goal is simply to have fun.
Three years later, in 1986, the Sunrise Summer Fun Day Camp was started for kids ages 3 to 7 who were too young to stay overnight but still deserved to get away, as well as their siblings. In 1988 Camp Sidekicks was started to give cancer patient's siblings an overnight camp of their own.
Today, ACS has overnight camps for cancer patients and survivors, another camp for their siblings and the day camp for younger kids, which is a combination of both.
ACS originally partnered with the city of Phoenix to host the day camp each year, but camp director Erin Vosseller was devastated in 2008 when the city cut ties.
Vosseller, a kindergarten teacher at Summit School of Ahwatukee, didn't know what to do until the preschool director of the school walked into her classroom.
"She asked what my summer plans were and I said I didn't know what the status of day camp was," Vosseller said. "If we couldn't find a facility we wouldn't be able to have it. She immediately went running to the principal and said we've got the space - this is one of our teachers who does so much for us; why can't we do something for her?"
The principal agreed, and so did the board. The school is open during the summer for its own camp so it wouldn't cost them anything. Camp Sunrise was welcome to use the school for three weeks during the summer free of charge.
Now, the school welcomes about 20 kids each year who are cancer survivors and their siblings, ages 3 to 7. The kids do crafts, take field trips and play games, all while forgetting or moving on from the challenges their families faced earlier in life.
For Carrie Sinclair the day camp was something they didn't try for a long time, but once they did they wished they had done it sooner. Sinclair's son, Corey, was diagnosed with cancer in 2006. Today, he is a survivor. He attended the camp last year with his younger brother, Brody, and they're excited to go back.
"They always came home with a couple stories to tell of all the great things they did," Sinclair said. "They really talked about it all summer even thought it was only three weeks. It kind of defined their summer for them."
Sinclair said Brody may love art more because of all the projects they did at camp. She also said the staff, who are all volunteers, are truly dedicated.
"The counselors are outstanding," Sinclair said. "You can tell they just love being with the kids."
Many of the volunteers are past campers or cancer survivors themselves, though that's not a requirement to volunteer. Overnight counselors must be 18 or older, but day camp volunteers can be as young as 14.
This year, Vosseller said she could use a few more adult volunteers for day camp but what they really need are donations. Gas cards, movie tickets, art supplies or snacks could all be used at the camp. For more information on the programs or to donate, call (602) 778-7629 or email Barb Nicholas at email@example.com.
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