Anna Gould meets with some of the campers at Camp Sunshine.
By Mary Catherine Karcich
Over the past 30 years, Massachusetts resident Anna Gould has been putting her heart and soul into running Camp Sunshine, a facility that focuses on children with life-threatening illnesses and their families. Gould and her late husband, Dr. Larry Gould, started Camp Sunshine on Sebago Lake in Casco, Maine, in the early 1980s.
After watching a television program about a summer camp for children with cancer, the Goulds decided to offer a similar program at their resort. Discussions with the chief of pediatric oncology at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston resulted in a pilot family camp for 43 children with cancer and their families in June 1984.
The response was overwhelming and the couple continued to offer the program at no charge to the families, expanding it to four weeks a year.
Demand for services far exceeded capacity, and in 2001, Camp Sunshine opened the doors of its own year-round facility on 24 acres donated by the Goulds. Today, the camp holds up to 28 sessions a year, with each session accommodating up to 200 children. Since 1984, Camp Sunshine has served over 43,500 family members from 48 states and 23 different countries.
As co-founder and board chair, Anna Gould sees the camp’s success as a double-edged sword. More success means the camp attracts more families, which serves as a reminder that there are too many sick children out there. On the other hand, she said it has also been a gratifying experience knowing the camp is available to help all of those people looking for a place of relief, comfort and acceptance.
Anna came to the United States from Italy at the age of 10, and she spent her youth in Arlington. She lived in Florida for 26 years, but later found herself back up north, where she now has two homes, one in Massachusetts and one in Maine. Her home in Maine allows her to be close to the camp, where she is present year-round.
Camp Sunshine has proven to be nothing but positive for those it serves, as well as its volunteers. Gould is humbled by the generosity of people who willingly give up their free time and spend it with the children and families. There is even a wait list of volunteers.
Anna has also recognized the impact the camp has on its attendants by the transformation parents go through.
“Seeing those faces when they walk in the first day, and then seeing the ability for parents to take a deep breath because this program has created this utopia of normalcy because their kids can run around regardless of what medical situation they’re in and no one bats an eyelash,” she said.
As a mother herself, Anna understands that it is always easier to go through pain than to watch your own child go through pain. The camp offers sessions for parents where they are allowed to console in each other, laugh together or cry together, and don’t have to pretend or hide their emotions. Gould says it is a “tremendous help” for these parents to have that sort of outlet.
Anna would love to see Camp Sunshine run well into the future, along with the hope that more campuses like this one open up around the country. She describes it as “daunting,” knowing that her camp is the only family-oriented place around and that there are families who will travel from across the country, even the globe, to find solace.
She also plans on remaining a part of the Camp Sunshine community.
“I’ve been very blessed to be involved here for 30 years, and I certainly have every intention to staying involved as long as I can. I don’t think there’s anything more worthwhile you can do than to give back.”
For more information, visit www.campsunshine.org.