Enrolling in summer camp is inconceivable for many children diagnosed with cancer. But this June the Sunrise Association is opening Aurora Day Camp, its eighth camp and first in Atlanta, for children who have cancer and their siblings.
Georgia has several sleepaway camps, but this is the state’s first full-summer day camp that gives children who are in active or follow-up cancer treatment the chance to regain the joys of childhood.
In addition to the counselors and unit heads, the camp will have a medical team on site, as well as a wellness center coordinator, two nurses and a medical coordinator, plus an on-call doctor.
Samantha Tanenbaum, Aurora’s director of camp and year-round programs, said the camp and all its services for each family will be free.
The camp will have weekly themes and decorations to help transform the school into a camp, Tanenbaum said. To help pay for giveaways and some supplies, Tanenbaum’s mother, Randi Gannon, started a GoFundMe campaign to raise $2,000.
Tanenbaum said her mother, a teacher in South Florida, launched the page because she supports her work and because she wanted to get her community and school involved in a good cause.
The camp has the know-how and tools to ensure campers have a magical and fun time, Executive Director Gregory Hill said, but Aurora camp needs donors and the community’s support to be sustainable. “We are looking for enthusiastic, talented and caring individuals who are committed to making this dream a reality for our campers.”
People have already expressed gratitude for the camp, Tanenbaum said. “People have said how excited they are and how it is a huge weight off their shoulders knowing that this program is free for their child with cancer and their sibling.”
She added, “They are moved to tears that we are going to be able to provide this to them and more, so that we are a highly personalized program.”
Children may attend for a day, a week or 6½ weeks, Tanenbaum said. The camp hopes to enroll 100 children this summer, but families can wait until the last minute to enroll to be sure their children are well enough to attend because there is no deadline to apply.
“Everything is on their terms, and our philosophy is to be as accommodating as possible, which really resonates with people,” said Tanenbaum, formerly the community camp ambassador for the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta.
In 2006 a Jewish community center in New York opened a summer day camp that served 96 children with cancer. The program spread, and the Sunrise Association has seven day camps before Aurora’s opening: three in New York (Long Island, Pearl River and Staten Island); three in Israel (Beit Yehoshua, Be’er Sheva and Ramat Yochanan); and Horizon Day Camp in Baltimore.
Tanenbaum said Aurora will offer everything from sports, arts, drama and creative writing to gymnastics and will have special events, such as a carnival at which Circus Camp will work with the kids.
“We don’t look at our campers as a child with cancer or a child that doesn’t have hair, we look at them as Brian and Sarah, who love horseback riding and scuba diving,” Tanenbaum said. “We get to know them for who they are, and it doesn’t matter that they have cancer because it doesn’t define them.”
Hill said, “Everything that we are doing is an attempt to bring childhood back to these children and offer them an opportunity where they can just be kids and participate in the same activities that their peers take for granted.”