More than 400 people participated in a recent walk-a-thon at the Henry Kaufman Campgrounds in Wheatley Heights, home of the new Sunrise Day Camp for youngsters with cancer and their siblings.
Believed to be the only day camp of its kind in the United States, this six-week day camp is free of charge to participants and has already raised $1.3 million. It expects to open July 10 with between 60 and 100 children ages 31/2 to 16.
A project of the Freidberg JCC in Oceanside, it will be based on about 50 acres in the northeastern section of the 300-acre Kaufman Campgrounds. "The only difference between this and other camps is that we have built a lot of programmatic and medical support for these children," said Michele Vernon, a social worker who is the camp’s director. For instance, she said that some children with cancer are not permitted to go into the water to swim, so the camp has erected a misting tent for them to run through and cool off. And there will not be any contact sports because children with cancer are more easily bruised.
"The sports we will offer them will allow them to play safely," Vernon said.
Doctors and administrators at four area hospitals (Winthrop University Hospital Cancer Center for Kids in Mineola, North Shore-Long Island Jewish Schneider’s Children’s Hospital in New Hyde Park, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan, and the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx) serve on an advisory panel that helps to create appropriate programs. Dr. Adam Levy of Montefiore’s Department of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology is the camp’s medical director.
All of the affiliated hospitals are disseminating information about the camp, and buses will transport youngsters to the camp from each of those hospitals each weekday. Camp hours are from 9:30 until 3:40, but there is an extended day program that runs from 7:30 until 6:30 for those who are driven to the camp by car.
Arnie Preminger, executive vice president of the Friedberg JCC, said UJA-Federation of New York has been helpful in introducing the camp’s fundraisers to potential contributors, both Jews and non-Jews, because the camp is open to all. He guessed that about one-fourth of the campers will be Jewish.
Preminger noted that this is not the only specialized camp at the JCCs on Long Island. He said his JCC will offer a camp at its main building in Oceanside designed for autistic children. And he said the Kaufman Campgrounds houses a program for the mentally retarded.
Jeri Mendelsohn, assistant executive director of the Samuel Field Y in Little Neck, said that because some youngsters with neurological conditions that impair their movement require special attention, a pilot program this summer will offer them additional support.
"I might include a highly trained additional staff member as a counselor to make certain that [these youngsters] participate in the activities," she said.
"We are hiring inclusion specialists," Mendelsohn added. "They will be assisting the specially hired people to make sure that campers have the equipment they need. And we are leasing golf carts to get the kids with motor impairment to their campgrounds. At least three campers depend on it."
Preminger said his camp has enrolled two blind campers, each of whom will have a counselor.
Mendelsohn said the whole objective of all of these specialty camps is to "make sure that camp can be for everybody."