Camp is a fun, enjoyable, stimulating and supportive experience
Camp Sunshine Dreams was created in 1988 by Sunny Sherven, Director of Child Life at Valley Children’s Hospital, with the help of the Candle Lighters (parents of children with cancer) and the American Cancer Society. We began with an enrollment of 25 campers and a staff of ten. Today Camp Sunshine Dreams has an average camper enrollment of 100+ children (ages 8 to 15 years of age), approximately 6 to 10 counselors in training (children ages 16 to 17), and a staff of 35 to 40 members. Camp is governed by a Board of Directors made up of volunteers from many areas of the community along with selected campers.
From 1988 through 1992, this camp was the fastest growing oncology camp in the nation, and remains the largest camp of its’ kind in Central California. In 1991 we were able to bring six children with cancer resulting from the Chernobyl, Russia nuclear power accident, and their physician and interpreter to our camp for the summer. In 2006 we opened our camp to victims of Hurricane Katrina, who may not have been able to attend their own camps that summer. Through the years, Camp Sunshine Dreams has provided one of the greatest camp experiences for thousands of children with cancer and their siblings.
My first year as a camper, I was 8 years old and was going through chemotherapy. At first I was scared to go because I did not know what to expect nor did I know anyone going. I remember arriving at camp and exiting the bus and being greeted by so many smiley faces. There were so many kids but some of them were bald just like me! Then I was put in a group with kids my age and two counselors and that is when the fun began.
There were so many different activities during the week of camp, swimming, archery, arts and crafts and music. The first night we arrived there was a camp fire, so make sure to bring warm clothes. Expect to gain some weight because the food is great and there are tons of snacks throughout the day. I made so many friends while at camp, some who had cancer like me and some who had brothers or sisters with cancer. I remember one of my favorite days being Thursday night, which was a dance. It was fun to get out on the dance floor all dressed up and be a normal kid. My counselors also made some time for this thing we call “spirit stick”. As a cabin you pick a stick and get to carve on it. You can choose to tell a story about how cancer has affected you or simply carve just for fun. On the last camp fire you get to put the carvings and stick into the camp fire. Staff later collects the ashes and now you are part of camp, forever!
At the end of the week I was very sad because camp was over. I had to say good bye too many friends and the countdown began for next year! “It was the best week ever” and now 20 years later, I hear that from many campers and know you will say the same when you leave camp. So what you can expect is one of the best weeks of your life!!
When I first attended Camp Sunshine Dreams, I couldn’t believe that such a wonderful place existed. Camp was more fun than I could have ever imagined. There were so many fun things to do like arts and crafts, campfires, archery, sailing, time at the waterfront, and a camp dance. My favorite were the campfires! We sang silly songs, watched and performed hilarious skits and really bonded together as a camp.
Before I went to camp for my very first time, I was a little nervous to be away from my parents and also nervous because I didn’t know too many other kids there. After I got to camp and met all of the counselors and other kids, I knew I had nothing to worry about. Everyone was so nice and caring. The best part of camp to me was simply being surrounded by other kids that knew exactly what it was like to have cancer. None of my friends at home knew what that was like, but the kids at camp did. I loved whenever the entire camp was together, whether it was at campfire, eating in the cafeteria, or at the waterfront. It felt great just to be an other “typical” kid there. When I was at camp, I wasn’t the one that was different or sick. No one cared if I looked different and I could talk to lots of other kids about stuff at the hospital or the things I was going through.
I think when you’re a kid with cancer, your one wish is to just be normal. For one week, when I was at camp, this wish was granted.
Oh yeah, and the food is really good too!!