Interview with Arnie Preminger, President & Ceo of Sunrise Association

by W.A. Muller

Sunrise Association Day Camps began as a dream of Arnie Preminger, President & CEO of the Sunrise Association. After attending a benefit concert for Paul Newman’s Hole in the Wall Gang Camp (a sleep-away camp for children with life-threatening illnesses), the dreaming began. Having built and operated summer day camps for more than 30 years at the Friedberg JCC, Preminger researched the existence of summer-long day camps for children with cancer, but to his surprise, found none. 

According to Preminger, “In 2006, 96 children, including siblings, rediscovered the magic of friendship and the joy of play at the first Sunrise Day Camp located on Long Island. The sounds of medical monitors were replaced with laughter, and the feelings of cold machines and sharp needles quickly disappeared with warm hugs from counselors and new friends. Unlike similar sleep-away camps that are offered for just 1-2 weeks, Sunrise allows children in active treatment to continue with their home doctors while attending camp each day. This unique concept allows children the comfort of sleeping in their own beds each night – a comfort not only for the campers, but for their parents as well.”

Preminger explains that Sunrise is more than just a camp; rather it’s a place that allows children with cancer and their siblings to be kids. “There’s arts & crafts, drama, sports, music, S.T.E.A.M — anything a traditional day

camp offers you will find at Sunrise,” says Preminger. “I’ve never been in a situation before where something that you do is so appreciated. Children love it. The feedback we get from parents is beyond accolades. They are just so grateful that there’s an opportunity for their children to have some normalcy.”

Sunrise Day Camp is situated on the beautiful and expansive Henry Kaufmann Campgrounds in Wheatley Heights on Long Island. Free transportation is available from select locations in Nassau, Suffolk, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, and the Bronx on staffed, air-conditioned buses. The core camp day is from 9:30 am to 3:45 pm (excluding transportation times). All activities are modified to meet every child’s needs and abilities. Goals include helping children develop friendships, confidence, and interpersonal skills while enjoying the simple pleasures of childhood. Recognizing the extraordinary financial demands that a child’s chronic illness can have on a family, Sunrise Day Camps and Year-Round Programs are always provided completely free of charge.

There are currently 8 Sunrise Association Day Camps — 3 in New York (Rockland County, Long Island & Staten Island), 1 in Baltimore, MD; 1 in Atlanta, GA; and, 3 in Israel. Each camp is supported by a medical director and on-site pediatric oncology nurses.

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“In addition to our 8 summer camps – which in 2019 ran with close to 2,000 children – we were also operating 43 weekly Sunrise on Wheels programs at 21 partner hospitals. Sunrise on Wheels is an innovative program that provides a day filled with Sunrise fun to children who are either awaiting treatment in pediatric oncology units of participating hospitals or who are inpatient. Volunteers wheel a tie-dyed trunk bursting with toys, games, and activities into the hospitals where the kids are receiving treatment. We change a difficult day into one of camp fun. It’s every bit as impactful as camp because it changes their experience. That’s what we keep trying to do. We want to take away the boredom, the isolation, the loneliness, and perhaps most importantly, the fear. “

When Covid hit, Preminger quickly went to work with his team to make sure none of their children were left behind. “This was uncharted territory. We had to leave the hospitals right away. Within 30 days of having closed down our offices, we moved into the virtual world. We began creating short videos called Sunrise on Screens where the kids can see familiar staff and participate in fun activities. Another program — Wheels Up! — takes kids on travels all over the world including Disney parks, the seven wonders of the world, an African safari, and so many other adventures. We just want to take them away from their reality to someplace where their imaginations can soar. To date, we’ve produced over 100 videos that are being viewed in hospitals.

“The pandemic also meant that we had to close our in-person camps in 2020. Our enormously talented staff jumped into ction and created a virtual program for our campers. It was phenomenal. Every week we sent out a “Camp-in-a-Box” to our campers’ homes, filled with supplies for the week. Those supplies could then be used during our live virtual camp Zoom sessions, of which we offered on average 50 per day including crafts, science, dance, music, sports, martial arts, and more. For campers who couldn’t attend the live sessions, we supplemented our programs with 100 pre-recorded videos, which campers could then view at their leisure. Over 1,700 children attended.”

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Seeing the success of virtual camp and its potential future impact, the Frances Davis Foundation   generously   awarded   Sunrise a $1 million grant to create the Dorothy & Irving Ross Sunrise Studios. The first project created was the Sunrise Studios app, which enables children to take Sunrise everywhere

— on their phones, tablets, or laptops – and

choose from hundreds of pre-recorded videos, with new ones being released weekly. The addition of Sunrise Studios will also enable Sunrise to turn last summer’s virtual camp into a permanent program, enabling them to reach local children who can’t come to camp in-person as well as children in communities too far away to attend the in- person camps.

Eligibility: Children who are on active treatment for cancer or who have been on treatment within the last five years and their sibling(s) are eligible to attend Sunrise Day Camp. Sunrise is a creative, safe, healthy, supportive, and fun-filled community where peers who have a similar and shared experience are supervised by a dedicated and trained staff who are keenly aware of their unique needs.

Mission: Sunrise Day Camp-Long Island is a proud member of the Sunrise Association,

whose mission is to bring back the joys of childhood to children with cancer and their siblings world-wide, Sunrise accomplishes this through the creation and oversight of welcoming, inclusive day camps, year- round programs, and In-hospital recreational activities, all offered free of charge.

Camp Address

Sunrise Day Camp

75 Colonial Spring Road Wheatley Heights, NY 11798

General Inquiries

Email: registrar@sunriselongisland.org Phone:516.634.4199

Mailing Address

Sunrise Day Camp-Long Island 11 Neil Court

Oceanside, NY 11572

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