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New Partnership: Big Blue Summer and CSCCNJ

Since summer is a time for fun, Pingry's Big Blue Summer Day Camp is excited to make it possible for some children to attend camp who otherwise might not have that option during these hot days—those who have been affected in any way by a cancer diagnosis, for either themselves or a family member, or who are in bereavement following the death of a loved one from cancer. These children are coping with their own set of emotions and need a comforting, safe space.

For years, as an option for community and civic engagement, and even for Independent Senior Projects, Pingry students have volunteered with Cancer Support Community Central New Jersey (CSCCNJ), an independent 501(c)(3) that is affiliated with Cancer Support Community, the world's largest professionally led nonprofit network of cancer support. CSCCNJ offers all of its services for free, no matter where a patient or his or her loved one is on the cancer journey. Part of the organization's mission is to bring children together with other peers who have been impacted by a diagnosis, and the need recently arose for CSCCNJ to establish a camp to continue that mission year-round. "We were looking to grow the social component of what we do, and summer camp provides that point of entry," says CSCCNJ Program Coordinator Katherine Schaible.

"Cancer Support Community Central New Jersey asked if Pingry could house their camp," recalls Shelley Hartz, Pingry's Director of Community and Civic Engagement. "When I posed this question to our Summer and Auxiliary Programs Department, they said yes." But the department went a huge step further, making the offer that CSCCNJ children could attend Big Blue Summer Day Camp at a greatly reduced cost (CSCCNJ is using a scholarship fund to cover it, thereby carrying forward their policy of not charging for services), and then CSCCNJ could run its free programming in the afternoons. Hence, the birth of Hope Camp in Partnership with Big Blue Summer!

"We are excited that these children get to come and be typical kids in a normal camp environment, and just kind of blend in and have the fun summer experience that they truly need and deserve," says Cindy McArthur, Pingry's Director of Summer and Auxiliary Programs. "We thought it was simply a good and right thing to do, and Pingry is proud to fully support the program. If we can make one camper's day better, it's all worth it."

Children in rising Grades 1-8 will attend the week of August 5, participating in typical camp activities like arts and crafts, sports and movement, and some yoga. "So far, we have eight students participating, and I am proud that Pingry has this partnership," Ms. Hartz says.

What can Hope Camp offer these children that a regular camp cannot? For starters, CSCCNJ's psychosocial support for emotional issues that could crop up—both Ms. Schaible, a social worker, and CSCCNJ Child and Youth Program Coordinator Jesse Guzik, a child life specialist, will be on site to run the camp, assisted by counselors who might have experience coping with cancer. For another, a feeling of togetherness. "Cancer is the 'elephant in the room' for these children. We want to reduce what might normally be a feeling of isolation around other children and give them time together so they know 'I'm not the only one,'" Ms. Guzik says. Adds Ms. Schaible: "This camp normalizes their experience in a fun, engaging environment."

It's also extremely important to CSCCNJ that life be as normal as possible for children who are confronted with cancer. "Being impacted by a cancer diagnosis doesn't change the fact that they are kids, and they still need to have typical childhood experiences," Ms. Guzik says. "In this kind of situation, kids are often forced to grow up and mature very quickly—they're told things like 'You have to be strong'—but they are still kids and need the opportunity to be kids."

Entering this first year of their program's summer camp, Ms. Schaible and Ms. Guzik know that some campers will be new to CSCCNJ and hope those children will continue with CSCCNJ after camp ends. "A lot of what we are offering at Hope Camp is a taste of what we offer on a regular basis, such as support groups, social opportunities, nutrition classes, and health and wellness," Ms. Schaible says. "We have such gratitude to Pingry for this opportunity. We never dreamt something like this could happen—our partnership with the school is exceeding our expectations."

Contact: Greg Waxberg '96, Communications Writer