Due to COVID-19, Camp Sunshine, an organization which strives to enrich the lives of children with cancer and their families, had to move its camp online for the summer in order to protect the health of its campers.
Sally Hale, the executive director of Camp Sunshine, said when the camp organizers saw cases of COVID-19 begin to spike in early March, they knew it wouldn’t be safe for children or their parents to attend the camp in person this summer.
Hale said Camp Sunshine immediately shifted its form of support for the families and suspended all in-person programs. The camp focused its efforts on sending care packages to the campers that contained all of the materials they would normally use to do camp activities in person, Hale said.
Hale said they shipped spa packages to parents who would have normally been able to go to the camp’s spa nights as well as care packages to children who were hospitalized.
When brainstorming about “Sunshine 2.0,” the virtual version of Camp Sunshine, Hale said the camp organizers tried their best to think about how they could incorporate as many of the camp’s traditions as possible. Hale said one of the traditions the camp was able to make virtual is flag raising. Using Zoom, campers were able to access the pre-recorded video of the flag raising and experience it as they would in person, Hale said.
Because of COVID-19 many of the children have been isolated from both friends and family. Even though the campers have to interact with each other virtually, they still feel connected by being able to see their friends and the familiar faces of the Camp Sunshine volunteers, Hale said.
“It’s not the way we’d normally have camp, and we would obviously prefer to all be together in person, but since we can’t this is the one way for us to all connect,” Hale said.
Camp Sunshine, University of Georgia head football coach Kirby Smart and his brother Karl Smart, a former camper, hosted a virtual dance party for the campers. The UGA football team also attended, and children were able to compete with the football players.
Aside from their summer program, Camp Sunshine has other weekend camps which run throughout the year, Hale said. The camp is already thinking about how these programs will be impacted by COVID-19. The organization’s Sibling Camp, which is usually held in August, will be hosted online, Hale said.
Hale said Camp Sunshine is willing to move between live camps and virtual campus until it is completely safe for families to meet in person. Hale said the susceptibility of children with cancer who are currently undergoing treatment means the camp has to be extra careful to protect them and their families from being exposed to COVID-19, Hale said.