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From Campers to Counselors – Paying It Forward
Doing regular childhood things – like going to school – was incredibly difficult for Hina Zahid when she was very young. Hina had battled a brain tumor twice – first at the age of 2 and then again after relapsing when she was 9. That’s when Hina found Sunrise Day Camp–Long Island, and the experience was life-changing.
“Sunrise offered me an immediate safe space,” Hina explained. “It wasn’t about treatment or cancer – it was about having fun.” When Hina aged out of the camper program, she came back the following summer as a counselor and has served in that important role ever since. “I wanted nothing more than to give back to the greatest place on earth and help other kids experience the same magic as I did.”
Like Hina, many former campers are helping us continue to make that Sunrise magic. This past summer, there were almost 50 Sunrise Association counselors who had once been campers. It’s not surprising that the older camps have seen more campers transition to the counselor role, and, as Sunrise continues to grow, we can expect to see many more at all locations.
Deanna Slade, Vice President of Camping and Related Services and the Director of Sunrise Day Camp–Long Island, observes that many of our campers-turned-counselors share similar feelings about why they come back. “These kids have had such an incredible and impactful experience at Sunrise that they want to pay it forward to other kids,” said Deanna. “The campers-turned-staff have seen their counselors as their role models and want to give back to our current campers. It’s really special.”
These campers-turned-counselors have first-hand connections to cancer, and often express to Deanna that it’s “interesting to be on the other side” of the camping experience. “These counselors spend a lot of time reflecting back to when they were campers,” said Deanna, and often exhibit qualities that make them successful in the counselor role. These qualities include being compassionate, hard-working, thoughtful, creative, dedicated, and good team players.
Returning as counselors also allows former campers to remain active in the Sunrise community. Alis Almonte started Sunrise Day Camp–Pearl River as a camper in 2018 and became a counselor in 2021. “Sunrise Day Camp has become my safe space,” said Alis. “There is no place I feel more comfortable in my skin than in the campgrounds at Sunrise Day Camp–Pearl River.”
Nathaniel Blades, 19, has been at Sunrise Day Camp–Long Island for the past 14 summers. His twin brother, Elijah, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) right before their fifth birthday. Nathaniel shared that he returns as a counselor to give back to others and to stay connected.
“When my brother and I were campers, Sunrise gave us an opportunity to have a summer and not worry about cancer or treatments. I wanted to give back and give an opportunity for other campers to enjoy their summer,” he said. “There’s no question that I’ll continue working for/with Sunrise. Sunrise is like home, and I never want to leave my family.”
Find this story and more in the Sunrise Association 2022 Impact Report!
SunriseWALKS is Growing – and Going!
Run with Team Sunrise
SUSA Cares for SunriseWALKS
On Friday, May 5, SUSA Cares is hosting its third annual WALK to benefit Sunrise Day Camp–Long Island. Last year, the Long Island soccer academy raised over $60,000, sending 10 children to Sunrise Day Camp–Long Island in 2022. This year, the group’s goal is to raise another $50,000+ to send more children to Sunrise in 2023.
SUSA FC is Long Island’s largest soccer academy, with soccer programs for kids ages 2 to 18. In addition to youth programs, SUSA FC has a Women’s Professional Soccer League team hosted at their own facility, and the largest youth-soccer complex on Long Island. To learn more about SUSA and its philanthropy branch, SUSA Cares, please visit: www.susaacademy.com
Women were front and center of two fundraisers for Sunrise Day Camp–Staten Island in March. The Joan & Alan Bernikow JCC of Staten Island, which operates Sunrise Day Camp-Staten Island, hosted its first-ever Women Front and Center fundraiser to benefit Sunrise. Just in time for Women’s History Month, the fundraiser on March 23 celebrated strong women in the Staten Island community, including one of our very own Sunrise Day Camp moms, Gabriella DiMaggio, who was joined at the event by her son, Rocco.
Earlier in the month, Danielle Cabral, a Staten Island native and the newest member of the Real Housewives of New Jersey, organized an amazing “Party Like a Housewife” event that raised funds and awareness for Sunrise Day Camp-Staten Island. The event was even featured on the E! News “Do-Gooder Gallery” alongside other high-profile celebrity efforts. Danielle presented Sunrise with a check for $25,000.
Horizon–Baltimore Plays Ball
Spring means one thing to sports fans – play ball! On April 10, that’s just what the Horizon Day Camp–Baltimore community did during their “Spring Break Sports Experience,” thanks to local teams. The Baltimore Ravens treated campers and families to an in-depth stadium tour while the Baltimore Orioles provided game tickets and invited the kids to batting practice. Two other children’s cancer non-profit organizations took part as well, and the collaborative experience was a homerun!