The last bit of conversation I heard yesterday morning as I exited the main building at Camp Sunshine was “I want to go in the pool and play in the snow!” This five year old was in a circle of animated children waiting their turn for a February wagon ride drawn by a pair of massive black horses. Clip, clop, clip, clop down the road. The counselor had corralled the kids and asked “how many of you have been here before?” About half. “And what activity are you looking forward to the most?” These are children who cannot take swimming pools and playing in the snow for granted.
At first glance, this collection of clapboarded buildings could be any family hotel…tidy two storey buildings of suites, scattered playgrounds and jungle gyms, basketball court, invitingly warm indoor pool, dining room and reception desk. Sandy beach on Sebago, volleyball court, staff dressed in bright yellow. But hospitality and recreation are not all that are found here; for 28 years now, just 1.6 miles west on Route 302 past the Migis driveway, Camp Sunshine (campsunshine.org) has been offering “a retreat for children with life-threatening illnesses and their families”. This haven is a place to be away from the stress and tension of family life that rotates around a critically ill child, a place where that child and siblings and parents can, for a week, put down the chores and cares and pick up relaxation, fun, companionship and the sense that here is a community who really does understand.
Here is a place of softness amid hard realities. Blankies abound. Quilts for sleeping, cuddling, decorating. Blankets for bundling up during the wagon ride and movie nights. Sunny the Bear padded in to the room and the able children, ready for hugs, flew to him, a veritable walking blanket. This abundance of linens illustrates the larger fabric of emotional, recreational and medical care available to these hurting families, a chance for the caregivers to become the recipients for a little while.
In the arts and crafts room, work begins on little wish boats. At the end of a camp session, these will be festooned with candles and launched en masse onto Sebago. Can you imagine these wishes, 28 years worth?
There are two 4 night sessions during this February school vacation period, serving twenty five families each. Families who will either return to what they already have experienced and enjoyed, or newcomers, nervous but brave and ready for this new adventure where they can emerge from a frightening isolation to a comforting camaraderie. This beautiful, comfortable 23 acre campus presently hosts 27 sessions a year, up from the 4 to 6 that took place before the current space was built in 2001. The goal is to serve 800 families per year. Two thirds of the care is provided by volunteers who contribute 70 thousand hours a year, many of them returning time after time and using their own vacation time to do so.
Director Matt Hoidal describes the ever-expanding length of the program calendar (now year round) and explains that Migis Lodge and its guests through their generosity have helped the camp get to this extraordinary level of service, and get there with confidence in its continuity. Their “incredibly generous” gifts and endowments have brought Camp Sunshine to not only this current status, but to a secure future for the camp. Each session is made up, intentionally, of about half returning campers. Imagine the impact to the newcomer family of meeting another family who has experience with the same long journey, and can share that unique experience, at no cost, in this setting of cheer and comfort. The family experience with illness is not a one time event, so the ability to look forward to another camp adventure in the future is integral to the emotional healing. The new share with the old, and many eventually return as volunteers themselves.
We at Migis encourage you to visit Camp Sunshine during your stay with us. Have a look at the brick walkway sections covered with familiar names. And ask at the desk about Tim Porta’s availability to take you over, if you like. After all, we’re always pleased to have a stroll and a chat with these exemplary neighbors.
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