Camp Sunshine to hold virtual experience this summer

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Camp Sunshine to hold virtual experience this summer

Georgia offensive lineman Warren Ericson interacts with campers during Georgia Football's visit to Camp Sunshine last summer.
Georgia offensive lineman Warren Ericson interacts with campers during Georgia Football’s visit to Camp Sunshine last summer.

Every year during the summer the Georgia Bulldogs football team has made it a tradition of visiting the kids at Camp Sunshine, a program that benefits children who have been diagnosed with cancer.

In April, Camp Sunshine notified families that the children won’t be able to attend camp this summer because of the coronavirus pandemic. Instead, they devised a solution that will still allow campers to still participate in activities with their counselors and friends.

“Like everyone else, we are very concerned for the safety of the campers and we’re not going to be able to meet in person this summer,” said executive director Sally Hale in a phone call with Bulldawg Illustrated. “We’re planning what we call ‘Sunshine 2.0,’ and it would be our virtual version of summer camp. We plan to carry our traditions on as best we can into a program to connect both the kids and the volunteers from their homes for a week of summer camp.”

Hale says that those traditions will remain intact, and the campers will get to participate in them. Some of those traditions include raising the flag in the morning and the campers being able to have chats with their cabin mates and counselors.

“We will have a combination of live activities with some videos, and there will be some time where we can all chat together,” Hale said. “Counselors will get to communicate with their campers via video and we’re going to bring Camp Sunshine into their homes.

“We’ll still be doing sing-a-longs of our favorite songs, which is a huge tradition of ours. Even though it won’t get to be around the campfire or in the dining hall, we will still do it over video.”

Kirby Smart and his brother Karl.
Kirby Smart and his brother Karl.

Another important tradition is when the coaches and players come to camp to visit for a day, and it is something that both the kids and staff value dearly.

“Right now we don’t know how we are going to make that happen, but we’ve been in touch with coach [Kirby] Smart, and he said he wants to still participate in some way,” Hale said. “The Georgia Bulldogs coming to camp has been a long standing tradition, so we want some kind of connection with the Bulldogs to still happen.”

The visit from the Georgia football team is always anticipated by the campers, and it serves as one of the biggest highlights of their summer.

“Oh my gosh, it means so much to these kids because these Georgia Bulldog players are the ones they watch on television,” Hale said. “So many of them are big fans, and so are the parents. They watch them and to see them actually at camp, to see them play dodgeball with them, or walk down the path with them going to arts and crafts is huge.”

Hale added that it’s an opportunity that campers wouldn’t have anywhere else.

“It’s a day that they look forward to every year,” Hale said. “So, we’re hoping there will be some type of connection, or some kind of a special message sent from the Bulldogs to happen.”

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For Smart, it is important to keep these visits annually because he has a personal connection with Camp Sunshine.

“Kirby’s brother, Karl, was actually a camper here when he was growing up,” said Hale. “So, he has a personal connection with this place, and you can absolutely tell he loves to visit. He gets out there and plays with the kids and has a huge smile on his face. You can tell he’s enjoying the day.”

In February, former Georgia safety J.R. Reed selected Camp Sunshine as his charity partner for the NFL Combine. It was something that was greatly appreciated by the staff and campers.

“We haven’t cancelled our mission,” Hale said. “It’s important that we still serve and enhance the lives of children with cancer and their families. We aren’t going to give up, and we’re still going to serve these families by finding new and different ways to provide them with a special experience.”

Hale says that people can still help them in a variety of ways. Financial donations are important and that allows them to serve the children and their families. People can visit Camp Sunshine’s website to learn more about ‘Sunshine 2.0’ and also learn more about it.

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Currently an intern for BI, and a junior journalism major at the University of Georgia.