My 3 Biggest Takeaways From Working at a Medical Camp

I still remember the exact outfit I wore and the nervous pit in my stomach as I went to my interview to become a counselor at Sunrise Day Camp three years ago. 

At the time, I was unaware this summer job would become such an influential part of my life and change me for the better. What makes my summer job unique is that Sunrise Day Camp is a camp for kids with cancer and their siblings, provided free of charge.

The camp I work at is in Long Island, New York, but there are several other locations around the world. Going into my first summer there, I knew Sunrise was something special, but I didn’t realize just how special it truly was. For the past three years, I’ve worked with 6- and 7-year-old girls.

On a normal day at camp, my campers participate in a wide range of activities. A lot of my campers enjoy dance, swim, yoga, soccer and gymnastics. Mostly, my campers enjoy forming friendships with each other as they participate in these activities. Each summer, I watched my campers mature and learn valuable life lessons.

Sunrise gives many of its campers the opportunity to re-experience aspects of their childhood that were stripped away by cancer. Sunrise is a safe space that allows a wide variety of children to feel accepted for exactly who they are. Some campers are in active treatment, remission or have a sibling going through chemotherapy, but everyone is welcomed at Sunrise with open arms.

Everyone has a different story, but each camper comes to Sunrise in order to gain a sense of normalcy. At other day camps, a kid going into the pool may just seem like an ordinary moment. Nonetheless, at Sunrise, any ordinary moment is a monumental moment. It’s easy to feel defeated when working with kids who have different medical and behavioral moments, but those rare and special moments you won’t find anywhere else is what kept me motivated the past three summers.

This past summer was different from my previous two summers because I had just finished my freshman year of college. I felt as though each lesson I learned connected back to my new life in Gainesville. I’ve always felt as though I am my best self whenever I am at Sunrise, so I made my goal this year to try to implement this version of myself into my sophomore year at UF.

Here are some of the biggest takeaways I have from my summers at Sunrise:

1. Remember the bigger picture.

On a normal day, I usually spend my time worrying about an upcoming assignment or something that may not be a big deal in the grand scheme of things. However, Sunrise has taught me many people struggle through tragic or overwhelming moments on a daily basis. It has taught me that I should spend my time taking advantage of the opportunities I have and focus on the good things in my life rather than stressing over minor problems. 

2. Be kind to everyone.

While we’re taught about this golden rule, most people get so caught up in their busy schedules they forget to be nice to all kinds of people. If someone is rude to you, it may be instinctive to be rude back, but it’s important to take a moment to reflect and remember you never know what someone is going through. Returning their anger with kindness may be something that turns their day around. 

3. Always aspire to be your best self.

While it may seem difficult in college, self care is an invaluable aspect of any college student’s life. Setting goals for myself each week and reminding myself of the person I strive to be helps motivate me throughout any obstacles. I often felt mentally drained after a long day of working with my campers. Likewise, I have this same feeling after a long day of studying and balancing different responsibilities at UF. Nonetheless, I try to always remember that in both situations, taking time to destress is extremely important!