Camp on Staten Island for Kids with Cancer Is a Product of Catholic-Jewish Partnership

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On the final day of day camp late last month, 4-year-old Sabur Clark was hopping and running, happily joining other boys and girls in carefree child’s play.

When he arrived at Sunrise Day Camp at the Mission of the Immaculate Virgin (MIV) on Staten Island six weeks earlier, Sabur, who has cancer, wore lower-leg braces on both legs, moved with the aid of a walker and showed little interest in making friends.

Administrators and staff at the camp, are astounded by the encouraging changes they have seen in Sabur, who, according to his mother, was diagnosed with a tumor in his left foot and another in his right hip. They say the child’s legs have strengthened, in part, because of the camp’s active environment.

Sabur’s mother, Trisha Purefoy, of Union County, N.J., was filled with emotion and gratitude during a telephone interview on Aug. 18, the day this reporter visited the camp off Hylan Boulevard.

“He’s just so excited every single day to get up and go to camp,” Mrs. Purefoy said. “It’s indescribable, the feeling—to see him so happy, to know that he’s actually having a childhood again.”

The camp staff “have hearts that are out of this world,” she added.

A partnership between Catholic Charities of Staten Island and the Jewish Community Center of Staten Island, Sunrise Day Camp is a place for children with cancer, and their brothers and sisters, between the ages of 3 and 16.

Sabur was equally enthusiastic about his camp experience. “I made lots of friends,” he said. “I had a lot of fun at the splash pad and the playground, and we play musical chairs.”

He and his peers were busy at play inside a Catholic Youth Organization building, which is part of the campsite.

Organizers were overjoyed with the effort made by the two faith-based organizations to bring about the summer day camp and are committed to making it a minimum three-year project, with hopes of having it for many more years.

The camp began July 11 and ended Aug.18. A family barbecue day was held midway.

Because of the financial constraints a child’s chronic illness may have on a family’s budget, Sunrise Day Camp is free.

Campers may sign up for one day or all six weeks. The day camp schedule—Monday through Friday, 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.—allows children who are receiving cancer treatments to continue with their doctors and enjoy the comfort of sleeping in their own beds each night at home.

While youngsters enjoy a summer filled with sports, arts and crafts, music and making friends, staff pay careful attention to the children’s medical and emotional needs.

The partnership that brought about Sunrise Day Camp began a year ago when Vincent Ignizio, CEO of Catholic Charities of Staten Island, and David Sorkin, executive director of the Jewish Community Center of Staten Island, met over lunch. Sorkin mentioned to Ignizio that the JCC was looking for space to offer a summer day camp on Staten Island for children with cancer. Ignizio spoke of the MIV facilities.

Planning meetings followed, leading to approval of the board of directors of both Catholic Charities of Staten Island and the JCC. The camp opened with 65 children, most of whom were from Staten Island, Manhattan, Brooklyn and New Jersey. (Sunrise Days Camps, which operate under the auspices of the Sunrise Association, are also located in Pearl River, Long Island, Baltimore and Israel.)

Attendance at the Staten Island camp averaged about 35 each day, and bus service was provided. Some of the children did not attend every day either because they were receiving medical treatments or they did not have the stamina to participate on a regular basis.

“I think the very unique situation we have here is that we’re two very large faith-based organizations—the Jewish faith and the Catholic faith—coming together to service the needs of the community,” Ignizio said. “We are extremely proud of that fact. We’re looking forward to another great season next year.”

Rebecca Gallanter, assistant executive director of the JCC, said the camp has become “very close to our hearts; it’s a very nice project.”

A $150,000 donation from Richmond County Savings Bank on Staten Island, she added, will enable Sunrise Day Camp staffers to visit hospitals throughout the coming school year to provide games and activities for children with cancer.

Another camper, Anthony Guarnieri, age 3, of St. Ann’s parish on Staten Island, has kidney cancer. His mother, Christina, said the camp “is absolutely wonderful for the children; my son loves coming here. He made friends here. The staff is so friendly and accommodating—they’re a blessing, they’re loving, they’re caring.

“It makes the dinner conversation different,” she added. “Instead of talking about treatment, what hurts and what doesn’t, he talks about what he did at camp, about fun stuff.”

Also at the camp on Aug. 18 was Heba Sarhan, 11, who has leukemia. She attended with her sister Amal, who is 6. The sisters, who live in Brooklyn, made many happy memories at the camp.

“I’m going to miss the place,” Heba said. “I’m going to miss the counselors and all the kids. I like basketball and art. It’s been a lot of fun, and I’m looking forward to coming back next year.”

Information: Catholic Charities of Staten Island, www.mountloretto.org, (718) 984-1500.

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