July 18, 2024
Search
Close this search box.
Search
Close this search box.
July 18, 2024
Search
Close this search box.

Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Sunrise Association Provides Free Day Camp For Children With Cancer in Israel and NJ

Sunrise Association, a not-for-profit organization that provides free summer day camp and year-round programs for children with cancer, is eagerly gearing up for their upcoming year of programming. Created and helmed by its president and CEO Arnie Preminger, the camp operates around the promise of giving kids back the childhood they had taken from them. With eight camps in Atlanta, Baltimore, Pearl River, Staten Island and Long Island, nearly 1,400 children attend their camps every year. Additionally, Sunrise-Israel, a branch of the organization that is celebrating its eighth year, has three camps in Beit Yehoshua, Be’er Sheva and Ramat Yohanan, Israel.

The idea for Sunrise was sparked when Preminger, then the CEO of the Friedberg JCC in New York, attended a Paul Newman benefit concert for a sleepaway camp for children with life-threatening conditions. He realized then that there were no day camps for children with cancer and so he started the first Sunrise Day Camp in 2006 as an initiative of the Friedberg Jewish Community Center of Oceanside, New York. The organization, while having Jewish roots, has always been open to children of all backgrounds. In the time since, the organization has grown with a unique accommodation system that allows children in active treatment to attend camp during the day and then return home in the evening to be near their doctors; the option is also available for children who are not quite ready for sleepaway camp. With medical personnel always on hand, the camp offers a diverse programming schedule comprised of indoor and outdoor activities designed to mimic a non-medical camp experience.

“Often isolated from the normal activities of childhood, children with cancer rarely have a chance to see beyond the closed worlds of home, hospital and doctors’ offices,” the organization shares on its website. “Sunrise Day Camps changes that by opening the door to a new world, making it possible for children to enjoy a summer filled with exciting daily activities, enduring friendships and laughter, while paying careful attention to their special medical and emotional needs.”

Will Eastman is the director of community engagement for Sunrise Association. A Livingston resident, Eastman first joined Sunrise Association as the executive director in Baltimore. After several years leading the Baltimore effort, Will moved back to New Jersey, where he currently spends most of his time working to grow the number of children that Sunrise serves in New Jersey and raising funds for Sunrise-Israel.

Speaking with The Jewish Link, Eastman elaborated on his time with Sunrise Association and discussed its goals and hopes.

“We believe that children should come home and get to talk about camp, not chemotherapy,” Eastman explained. “We’re not researchers or doctors. We are people who bring joy to these kids and try to let them have a break from what they’re going through. My time at Sunrise has taught me that a child’s happiness is priceless and that we need to do everything possible to help these children, no matter what challenges it takes to do that.”

As part of its offerings, Sunrise is renowned for its inclusivity of the siblings of children with cancer, encouraging them to attend the sessions as well. Siblings unfortunately can feel ignored, as most of their parents’ attention must be directed toward the ailing child. Sunrise is an opportunity for them to feel involved. Eastman is proud of how inclusive and diverse each camp is and how it helps the children build a community of friends, which is important, as cancer can leave children feeling isolated. Regarding the diversity of campers, Eastman stated, “At Sunrise we have children and staff from all walks of life. In Israel we have families and staff that come from virtually every sector of Israeli society.”

In addition to the summer offerings, the camps also offers programs throughout the year on Sundays and holiday breaks, allowing campers to continue the friendships they developed over the summer. One program, called Sunrise on Wheels, provides weekly in-hospital recreation to children at the hospitals while they receive their cancer treatment. This program is offered in over 20 hospitals worldwide including two in Israel and three in New Jersey including at Hackensack Medical Center. Sunrise staff and volunteers provide a joyful experience to the children receiving treatment including art projects, games, music and group activities. The purpose of the program is to make the child’s experience in the hospital easier and to bring smiles during the harder times as well.

“We once had a 7-year-old girl who was so excited about coming to camp,” Eastman said, “but right before camp started she was admitted to a hospital to undergo a very serious treatment. She was going to be spending her birthday in the hospital in isolation treatment with gowns and masks on. Through Sunrise on Wheels we were able to bring camp to her. We held a princess-themed birthday party for her to make sure she didn’t feel left out. It’s moments like those that really personify the Sunrise mission and give us the sense of urgency to do more.”

Sunrise Association camps run for up to seven and a half weeks over the summer and is continuously funded by generous donations that allow the children to enjoy their summer and year-round experiences free of charge. Sunrise is actively working to grow its programming in New Jersey and Israel and is looking for staff, volunteers and supporters who care about helping children with cancer in all the areas they serve. If you would like to learn more about Sunrise Association and their offerings, or would like to make a donation, you can do so at their website, https://www.sunriseassociation.org/. Additionally, you can give them a call at (516) 634-4144.

By Adam Samuel

Adam Samuel is a journalist from Teaneck. He blogs at adamssoapbox.com.�

Leave a Comment

Most Popular Articles