A hero to kids with cancer

September 1, 2009 4:32:25 PM PDT
Arnie Preminger founded Sunrise Day Camp, in Wheatley Heights -- a welcome paradise for kids with cancer. At this summer time haven, long, grueling days filled with doctors, hospitals, chemotherapy and radiation can be left behind

"This camp is the world to me. I get to go out there and wear a bathing suit and not be embarrassed because of the scars on my back. I get to have fun being me," said 11 year old Evontie Brown.


    Thirteen year old Bobby Kawecki has been coming here for the last few years.

    "There are people who have shared your experiences and you're really not alone and you can connect with everybody," said Bobby.

    "Since I'm at the hospital at least once a week, it makes me feel better to have fun over the summer." said nine year old Maxwell Russ.

    And the camp is here because of Arnie's vision. He founded Camp Sunrise four years ago and did it simply because he could.

    "We try to focus on life here. We try to focus on the happiness here. We try to focus on the fact that we're giving them something they normally wouldn't have," said Arnie Preminger.

    Arnie is the President of the Freidberg Jewish Community Center which sponsors the camp.

    Sunrise is one of the only day camps in the country for children who have cancer. And it's free, not just for those who are sick, but for their siblings who often feel the devastation of the disease.

    Caroline Watters has leukemia and her big sister, Lisette, is also a camper.

    "I get to see her and I love her so much. I don't want anything to happen to her," said nine year old Caroline.

    Lisette is glad she can keep watch over her younger sister.

    "Since we're so close, it brings us closer together and makes us really happy," said 11 year old Lisette.

    The young cancer survivors, and their brothers and sister talked about how Camp Sunrise helps them to forget about their problems.

    "You can act just how you want to cause you're a kid. You don't really have problems anymore," said Vanessa Rengifo whose twin sister has bone cancer.

    Sunrise is a camper's dream, where days are filled with swimming, golfing, arts and crafts. There's also an amazing tree house. Arnie Preminger said it has special meaning.

    "It's ramped, 130 feet of ramp so a child in a wheelchair that's having difficulty walking can actually get to the tree house," said Preminger. "It's high up. Kids who are hospitalized are used to looking up all the time. They lay in bed, they look up, they deal with adults much more than children. They're always looking up at somebody. In the tree house, they get to look down on the world."

    Perhaps most important, these kids have made lifelong friends. More than 300 children attend Camp Sunrise. Preminger has made a dramatic difference in their lives.

    "They get to be kids," Preminger said. "Some of these kids have never made a friend before. Some have never played a ball game, they're used to being with adults, not other children and we've given it back to them. That's an amazing thing to be able to do for somebody."

    Preminger says for him, being here has its own rewards.

    "There's really not a lot of things in life that are as special as when a child who is sick hugs you because you've made a difference in their life," said Preminger.

    "He doesn't make me feel like I have cancer. He always makes me smile," said 11 year old Cami Korobow.

    That's Preminger's biggest reward.

    "Yes, it's the smiles, it's the laughter. Look how they're running, they're playing and look how they are laughing. That is the most incredible thing we're able to do for them," said Preminger

    But, he says, he is not the hero.

    "The kids are the heroes. They're the ones who make all of this happen," said Arnie.

    The camp is made possible thanks to the generosity of others. If you would like more information on how you can donate to the camp or to send a sick child there, please visit:
    Sunrise Day Camp

    Web produced by Maura Sweeney