CASCO, MAINE – A group of Ayer Shirley Regional High School students and a teacher from the school are spending a week at Camp Sunshine on beautiful Lake Sebago, but it’s not a vacation.
They’re volunteers at Camp Sunshine, a retreat for children with life-threatening medical conditions and their families. According to the organization’s website, it has served over 50,000 people in 27 countries since the camp was founded in 1984.
On a mission to provide respite, relaxation and recreation in an environment as close to a summer resort as possible, with specially-trained staff, doctors available 24/7, hospitals, emergency and urgent care facilities nearby, Camp Sunshine offers age-appropriate activities for children and families facing similarly serious challenges, where the kids and their adult family members can mix, mingle and bond.
“Everybody gets to play,” said Jim Quinty, who headed up the excursion with his wife, Beth.
Camp Sunshine relies on volunteers, some of whom return year after year, according to the website.
Group members who met last week at Far and Near in Shirley to go over the trip itinerary one last time before heading off to Camp Sunshine included the Quintys, town residents who fit that profile.
The two longtime camp volunteers recruited students to join them and added a teacher to the roster.
“Last year, we took five kids along,” Beth Quinty said.
This year, there are more than 10 students in the group, plus the teacher chaperon, Lolly Capasso.
Beth and Jim Quinty have been volunteering at Camp Sunshine for many years, before and after they married and had children. In fact, it’s where they met.
Student volunteers this year included Brandon Vachon, Shaunessy Straitiff, Vanessa Delk, Sean Doyle, Mairead Harley, Dimitiri Battle, Dejah Fleurcoise, Qeanu Smith and Quinty siblings, Sierra, Deran and Catherine.
Once there, the students will get an introduction to the camp and a full day’s training for their roles as volunteers. They will stay in a dorm-like facility built for the purpose a few years ago. Early on, volunteers camped out in temporary trailers, Beth Quinty said.
Camp Sunshine guests stay in fully-equipped suites.
Volunteers are assigned to various age groups and pitch in where they’re needed, Jim Quinty said, from sports to arts and crafts to helping out in the dining hall and more. Evenings, there’s entertainment. “After a week,” they’ll be exhausted,” he predicted, adding that when the group returns, they’ll all be back in school the next day, students and teacher alike.
But it all sounds rewarding. “I like working with kids,” said Catherine Quinty, who is considering a career in physical therapy. She’s been going to Camp Sunshine with her parents for years.
“As a kid, I made a really good friend there who was losing her hair,” Catherine said, due to previous treatment for her illness. (None of the guests at Camp Sunshine are in active treatment while there, her mom said.) The other girl, who has since died, liked to braid her pal’s long hair. One summer, Catherine had her head shaved in solidarity with her friend, she said. It’s all grown back now, abundantly.
Another student in the group said he looked forward to a “powerful, challenging experience.”
Beth Quinty hopes they will all want to do it again and that some of them might sign up for a fundraising “Polar Plunge” later this year to benefit Camp Sunshine.