As I have mentioned in a previous post, I am honored to be a volunteer for Camp Sunshine, an Atlanta-based nonprofit that provides support, community, and a little bit of magic to children who have cancer and their families.

During a recent meeting at Camp Sunshine, we discussed the success of the Sunshine 2 U program which, as you will read below, is designed to bring camp activities to children while they are in the hospital.  One of the women at the meeting, whose child is a cancer survivor, said something about how wonderful it would have been for her as the caregiver to have the opportunity to get her child out of her room and involved.

I’ve volunteered for Sunshine 2 U and, in fact, many caregivers accompany their children to the gathering.  Others use the time to make much-needed phone calls or “run errands” in the hospital.  All the while, they know their children are in amazing hands and having a little bit of fun.

I asked Lindsey Monroe, Special Events and Public Relations Manager for Camp Sunshine, to share a few words about Sunshine 2 U with us.

Sunshine 2 U – A Guest Post by Lindsey Monroe of Camp Sunshine 

Camp Sunshine offers a variety of programs throughout the year. Our annual summer camp, which is attended by more than 400 children each summer, is the largest and most well-known. Although summer camp is the cornerstone on which Camp Sunshine was founded more than 30 years ago, there are several children annually who cannot attend camp because they are hospitalized.   It is often a tremendous disappointment and loss for the child who has been anticipating camp for months, or has heard about camp from other children and hospital staff, to know they will not be able to attend.  We want all children to experience camp, even those who are in the hospital; therefore, we started our Sunshine 2 U Hospital Camp!

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In 2006, Camp Sunshine proposed to plan and implement a day camp for children on the two inpatient units of the Aflac Cancer Center at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. This day camp would occur simultaneously during the two weeks of the annual Camp Sunshine summer camp.  The first Sunshine 2 U was held in June, 2007 and has been held every summer since.

Sunshine 2 U is held Monday through Thursday in the hospitals’ playrooms during the same weeks as regular summer camp. Any child admitted to the Aflac Cancer Center, and their siblings, are invited to attend.   Each camper and staff member working on the units during camp receive a special Sunshine 2 U T-shirt to remember their participation. Campers also receive a name tag, hat and a water bottle – just like they would receive at summer camp. Image 2

Typically, morning activities include arts and crafts, sports, cooking, newspaper, tie-dye, and a nature activity. The afternoon features a group project or some type of entertainment such as a magic show or movie. All activities are “hospital friendly” we play traditional camp songs on the radio throughout the week.

Sunshine 2 U day always ends with a sing-a-long which features artificial scenes of camp including stumps and logs to sit on and a glowing (fake) campfire!  They also enjoy s’mores … not roasted, of course.

With the hospital staff direction, campers unable to attend the scheduled activities can have projects delivered to their rooms for them to complete on their own. Additionally, patients in the Bone Marrow Transplant unit receive special kits each day that are individually wrapped and sealed in a zip loc bags for infection control purposes.

Because of its popularity during the summer, we recently expanded Sunshine 2 U to include monthly visits to each hospital’s inpatient units and outpatient clinics.

Camp Sunshine staff and volunteers spend the day doing camp activities with the patients to help long treatment days go by faster.

Sunshine 2 U is staffed by Camp Sunshine professional staff members, Camp Sunshine volunteers, hospital volunteers, a registered nurse and a Child Life Specialist or assistant.

The benefits of Sunshine 2 U are beyond measure and include:

  • The opportunity to reach more children with cancer and their families than the traditional summer camp or other year round programs can provide.
  • Children who are unable to attend summer camp still have an amazing camp experience!
  • Sunshine 2 U has been able to get children who would not typically leave their room to do so for camp.
  • Siblings and parents are able to participate alongside their patients, offering them opportunities to make camp memories together even in the hospital.
  • Sunshine 2 U is a unique experience for Camp Sunshine volunteers to witness the hospital setting.
  • And last, but certainly not least, Sunshine 2 U is FUN!

“In the morning, there are kids standing outside the playroom wearing their Camp Sunshine hats and t-shirts waiting for us to get started.  And at the end of the day, there are tears because they don’t want it to end,” said Ann Baker, Program Director and former Child Life Specialist.

FUN, indeed.

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Thanks, Lindsey, for sharing the sunshine with us!

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