An extremely rare opportunity in the form of Sunrise Day Camp is coming to the JCC Chicago next summer. The Sunrise Association Day Camps are the world’s only dedicated day camps for children with cancer and their siblings, all offered free of charge to families.
Addie Goodman, the president and CEO of the JCC Chicago, said next year’s event would be one of just seven Sunrise Day Camps available in the U.S.
“I feel incredibly honored to be joining the Sunrise team and be a part of Sunrise Day Camp,” said Goodman. “It’s not a small feat. It’s a tremendous amount of dollars and resources needed but doing this sort of work is everything the JCC Chicago is about. If anyone in our community is going to do this, it’s us. I’m so thrilled by this.”
Goodman said the camp was made possible after her organization received a $1 million gift to run the program for the next three years. Because Sunrise Day Camp is free, it’s powered by philanthropy. “The community is really supporting this,” she said. “We are running this, but without them it wouldn’t be possible.”
JCC Chicago’s Sunrise Day Camp will be held on 37 acres at the Lake County Jewish Community Campus. The camp will share the space with Elaine Frank Apachi Day Camp. The campus features green sports fields, natural wetlands, winding nature trails, two heated outdoor pools, athletic courts, air-conditioned buildings and more.
Goodman said they expect at least 100 to 150 children to register, and around half of that number to be at the camp on any given summer day. Children between ages 3.5 to 16 on active treatment for cancer or who have been treated within the past 5 years — and the sibling(s) of a child who meets this criteria — will be accepted into the program.
“We are not going to say no to anybody, but it takes time for people to get to know a new program,” said Goodman. “We have all the backing, but it is still new in the Chicago market. It may be a lower number in Year One, but in Year Two we expect a big boost.”
However, registration isn’t like the average summer camp. Goodman said they communicate with area hospitals to find the children eligible for Sunrise Day Camp.
As far as every-day activities are concerned, attendees will enjoy what any other child at summer camp experiences but with a unique twist.
“If a group learns a dance or skit, they preform it on that day,” said Goodman. “There is no carry over between days. Arrival is celebrated like it’s the first day at camp, and departure is treated like it’s the last day. We want every child to have a truly great day while they are here.”
The original Sunrise Day Camp took place in Long Island. In fact, Goodman said they’ve had the privilege of visiting it twice. From her organization’s research, they saw they needed to quickly begin the processes of raising money, marketing the camp and staffing.
“We will operate at a stronger one-to-four camper-to-staff ratio,” said Goodman. “There will also be a larger medical staff on hand. Our staff really knows how to do day camp. We have all the stuff, but that’s not really what makes our camps so impactful and meaningful. We are not going to run a camp without mental health support or without a full team in place to make sure every single child has a successful summer.”
She added JCC Chicago has already seen a strong reaction from nearby hospital staff who insist this camp is needed.
“They are thankful this exists because there isn’t anything like it out there,” said Goodman. “What kids really need is a successful summer and to have those essential needs. Through this program, you become the best version of yourself by the end of the summer. We believe every child should be able to come to camp.”
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