"These kids are really smart and have some understanding of what is going on with them."
Camp Sunrise is one of many summer camps organized by local chapters of the American Cancer Society for children with cancer. For the last five years, Stephanie Dummerth, 12, of St. Louis, MO, has volunteered as a junior counselor to provide the children the same carefree experiences she had when she attended the camp in 1998.
Stephanie: Every year since 2000, I have been a volunteer and junior counselor for Camp Sunrise, which is for kids eight and under with cancer and their families. I work with the three- and four-year-olds by playing games, making crafts, reading to them, and just being their friend. I want them to forget about their illness and just have fun being toddlers.
What is the name and location of the organization?
Stephanie: Camp Sunrise is sponsored by the American Cancer Society's Heartland Division and held at the YMCA of the Ozarks in Potosi, Missouri, every Labor Day weekend.
Tell us about the project, especially who benefited from this work.
Stephanie: Each year there are 35 families from various hospitals that come to Camp Sunrise. It is a time for these families to just get away from all their worries and hospital stays. We want them to have fun and be able to talk to other families going through the same thing. The entire family benefits from Camp Sunrise.
What inspired you to get involved?
Stephanie: In 1997 my little sister Jenny was diagnosed with leukemia. In 1998 we attended Camp Sunrise as a "Hospital Family" and had a great time. Jenny was happy because she got to play and have fun and there were no "owies". I had fun because there were a lot of kids my age, and we could talk and play and have fun. From that year on, my family has been involved at Camp Sunrise as volunteers. We love to make the families feel like we did in 1998. I love seeing the kids smile and just be kids.
How did you first get involved? Give us some details.
Stephanie: I got involved through my parents. They encouraged me to be a volunteer and help with the kids and the families.
What is/was the best thing about your experience?
Stephanie: The best thing about my experience is that I get to see the kids with cancer outside of the hospital. It is great to see the kids having fun and smiling. It is very fulfilling to be able to help these families who are going through such a horrific experience.
What is/was the hardest part?
Stephanie: The hardest part about the experience is knowing some of these kids are not going to live much longer. I get really close to these kids and keep in touch even after camp. It is really hard when someone who was at Camp dies.
What was the biggest surprise?
Stephanie: The biggest surprise for me was that these kids are really smart and seem to have some understanding of what is going on with them. Some of them talk about their chemo treatments and their hospital stays. The best surprise was when one of the kids said "I love you Stephanie, can you come live with me?" That was so cool.
What new things have you learned as a result of your experience and how have you changed as a result?
Stephanie: I have learned a lot being a Camp Sunrise volunteer. I have learned not to take things for granted. I have learned how to help and feel really good about it. I have become a better person because of my experience at Camp Sunrise. Giving is much better than receiving. Just the kids' smiles are enough for me.
What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of getting involved in philanthropy or volunteering?
Stephanie: I would tell anyone to get involved. It is so rewarding. When you can give of yourself to help others, it is an awesome feeling.
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