Launched two summers ago at the Davis Academy in Atlanta, Aurora Day Camp provides programs to bring back the joys of childhood to children with cancer and their siblings free of charge.
The camp for children aged 3 1/2 to 16 years old is based on a model developed in New York and belongs to the network of the Sunrise Association spreading all the way to Israel where three similar camps are flourishing.
Designed for children with cancer in active or follow-up treatment, the camp lasts for seven weeks and is free of charge based on the support it receives from a wide gamut of donors including individuals, corporations and non-profits.
It also doesn’t discriminate by race, religion or economic circumstance and like all the members of the Sunrise Association aims to brighten the lives of these children and their families through day camps, year-round program and in-hospital recreational activities.
Dr. Glen Lew, a pediatric oncologist at Emory/Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, has played a critical role in establishing Aurora, which first opened in 2018 with 90 campers and grew this past summer to include 131 children enrolled in its daily sports and arts activities designed with special features to accommodate chronically ill children. Gregory Hill, the camp’s executive director based in Atlanta, told Global Atlanta that he expects at least 170 participants to be enrolled next year.
When Dr. Lew was first approached to serve as Aurora’s medical director he hesitated because of the presence of another two-week resident camp in Georgia for children with cancer. But once he learned that Aurora would provide daily activities for the campers and their siblings, he recognized the unique concept and agreed enthusiastically. Individualized activities are developed ranging from “high-energy” and “low energy” experiences led by specialists who provide lessons in music, creative writing, dance, art, drama, STEM disciplines and sports.
Dr. Lew also was drawn to the program because of the recognition it gives to Atlanta’s pediatric cancer community, which he said is globally recognized due to the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.
Dr. Lew added that he is especially supportive of the program because many of the children experience complete remission and go on to live productive lives and their Aurora experience will provide them with joyful memories of a childhood that otherwise would be cast solely in shadows.
“Over my years as a pediatric oncology specialist, I have seen the amazing positive impact that attending camp has on children with cancer, their siblings and the entire family,” he said.
Although Aurora is a fairly new arrival in Atlanta, the origin of the idea for such a camp can be traced back to 2005 when Paul McCartney performed at a benefit concert for actor Paul Newman’s Hole in the Gang Camp, a two-week retreat for seriously ill children.
Among the attendees at the event was Arnie Preminger, who was touched by the stories he heard of the children and their parents’ perspectives about the camp’s benefits for the families dealing with the problems they faced due to their childrens’ illnesses and the relief they received by having the children able to experience the joys of childhood.
Mr. Preminger who was the executive director at the Friedberg Jewish Community Center located on Long Island, N.Y., with a social work background, was no stranger to running day camps. The Hole in the Gang Camp concert got him thinking about the struggles of families with children suffering from cancer and how to provide services that would uplift both the children and their families with positive experiences in a full-summer day camp setting.
The financial demands can be highly burdensome on these families including tens of thousands of dollars for doctor visits, hospital stays, ambulance rides, surgeries and treatment. In some cases, parents have to quit their jobs to be with their sick child and the toll on siblings can be acute because so much attention has to be focused on their brother or sister with cancer.
The following summer, Mr. Preminger adopted the Hole in the Gang concept to a day camp model focused specifically on children with cancer and their siblings, offered free of charge, as an initiative of Friedberg JCC known as Sunrise Day Camp.
The camp soon afterward expanded its services to include year-round programming, hospital visits and brought camp activities into outpatient clinics at affiliated hospitals.
The concept has taken off and today there are eight day camps, including Aurora Day Camp, under the umbrella of the Sunrise Association — three in New York (Long Island, Pearl River and Staten Island), three in Israel (Beit Yehoshuah, Be’er Sheva and Ramat Yochanan), and Horizon Day Camp in Baltimore, Md..
Atlanta also was selected to host a camp, Mr. Hill said, because of the numbers of children receiving care and the backing of the local philanthropic community.
The Davis Academy on Roberts Drive, the largest reform Jewish day school in the country, has provided its facilities to the camp over the summer. “The Davis Academy has been an incredible partner to Aurora Day Camp and has been instrumental in making our day camp a reality for the Atlanta community” said, Mr. Hill.
Mr. Hill may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 404-470-1588.