Full Circle: Former Campers Creating Magic at Sunrise Day Camp

Campers to Counselors

Hina's story at Sunrise Day Camp Long IslandDoing 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.”