3 min read

Summer is normally a time when many children and families look forward to fun, respite and new experiences at summer camp. Even with the challenges of COVID-19 this year, the creative minds at Camp Sunshine in Casco, Maine, Barretstown in County Kildare, Ireland and The Painted Turtle in Lake Hughes, California continue to make summer camp a reality.

These organizations, which are for children living with serious diseases and their families, quickly pivoted from in-person experiences to virtual ones that bring the camp experience directly to children’s homes. A silver lining in these challenging times is that virtual summer camps allow even more children and families to participate.

Here’s a glimpse into how these three organizations adjusted to continue to provide valuable experiences and support that families need. The Vertex Foundation is proud to support their efforts and impacts with families.

The sun continues to shine

Camp Sunshine is a retreat for children with life-threatening illnesses and their families. Now in its 36th year, it hosts up to 23 sessions annually while serving more than 700 families. Vertex employees have long supported the camp through fundraising and serving as camp volunteers. The Vertex Foundation also provides funding to the organization, which this year is being used to support its virtual camps.

For summer 2020, Camp Sunshine pivoted to create “Camp Sunshine Together at Home,” a series of virtual programs held throughout the summer. While nothing can truly replace Camp Sunshine’s in-person retreats, the staff has created a program to bring some of the magic into the homes of families. Every participating family receives a curated “Box of Sunshine” that includes items to recreate camp activities at home. Activities include “wish boats,” arts and crafts projects and classic camp snacks. The boxes are complemented by live and on-demand virtual programming, including the wish boat ceremony, a talent show, presentations from the Maine Wildlife Park, yoga, karate, drawing lessons and more. All of this adds up to a continuation of camp traditions — just from the safety and comfort of home.

Learn more at https://youtu.be/_Q1UrnPjhtk.

Camp Sunshine Wish Boat Ceremony
Camp Sunshine drawing lesson
The magic of Barretstown

Another camp the Foundation supports is Barretstown, in County Kildare, Ireland, that aims to meet the needs of the children living with serious illnesses and their families. Barretstown is part of the SeriousFun Children’s Network founded by actor and philanthropist Paul Newman. Due to COVID-19, summer residential programs had to be postponed, but the team quickly responded by creating Barretstown Live, a new online and interactive platform broadcasted directly to children in their homes.

It was an easy decision to reallocate the Foundation’s grant to support two virtual siblings programs and a residential siblings program being planned for later in the year. Barretstown developed an exciting and brand-new virtual program for siblings ages 7-12 and 13-17 years that brings children fun, activity-based experiences through a virtual broadcast. The virtual support is critical because the children and families Barretstown serve are more isolated than ever as they were among the first to go into lockdown in Ireland and some of the last to come out. 

Two girls working on a baking recipe with Barretstown
A young girl laughing, putting on yellow star shaped glasses
Seriously fun camping

The Painted Turtle is located at a beautiful campsite in Lake Hughes, California, and is also part of the SeriousFun Children’s Network. Established in 2004, the camp serves more than 6,000 children with serious and chronic medical conditions throughout the year with residential programs at the camp as well as hospital-based programs.

The Vertex Foundation supports their Sibling Program, a week-long residential program for 125 siblings of children with serious illnesses. When a child has a serious illness, the whole family is impacted. Programs that are specifically for siblings allow them to bond with other siblings, share their experiences and learn from each other.

We spoke with April Tani, Director of Camp Programs and Initiatives, to learn more about how they reimagined the program to be virtual. She shared that they challenged themselves to do their best to maintain the integrity of the program in a totally new remote format.  

“We found great success in sticking to what we know best — which is that camp is a place of community and connectedness that help families feel energy and a positive spirit.”

-April Tani, Director of Camp Programs and Initiatives, The Painted Turtle

The team was ecstatic to able to feel the camp spirit and joy come through strongly over the internet.

The sibling session that's sponsored by the Vertex Foundation took place earlier this month. It was their largest session to date — 67 families in attendance with more than 250 participants.

Tani also shared that the solid, consistent support from the Vertex Foundation gave them confidence in what they could do and a place to grow from when building the rest of their programming. “That promise to the program and the children and families is invaluable,” according to Tani.

Learn more about The Painted Turtle’s Camp at Home at: https://youtu.be/gJM5XTne0zY.

Two campers at The Painted Turtle
The Painted Turtle campers watching a live performance on a tv