Every year, Camp Sunshine provides a cheerful spirit and a safe environment where everyone is loved and accepted just the way they are.
In its 35th year of programming, Camp Sunshine gives people ages 12 to 50 with mild to moderate cognitive impairments the chance to attend summer camp.
“At Camp Sunshine, we view the population as people with abilities,” said Cindy Terlouw, executive director. “We do not focus on what they are unable to do. We honor them, we value them and we have great respect for them.”
Camp Sunshine has two locations: Camp Blodgett in West Olive and Camp Henry in Newaygo. Each location has two four-day, three-night sessions, with 150 campers at Camp Blodgett and 120 at Camp Henry this year.
Every camper is paired with a volunteer counselor for the full camp session.
“It’s about the camper-counselor connection,” Terlouw said. “For me, to have the opportunity to offer an environment where a camper and a counselor can come together and in four days, both lives have been deeply inspired, impacted, transformed and a relationship has grown, brings me great joy. That’s why I do what I do.”
Activities vary between camps, but always include a central theme implemented at both. This year’s theme is “celebration” in honor of the camp’s 35th year.
At Camp Blodgett, campers can go down to the beach and swim in Lake Michigan, practice archery and do the low ropes course. At Camp Henry, zip lining, horseback riding and kayaking are some of the activities campers can participate in.
Both camps include arts and crafts and have a dance on the first night, as well as a talent show on the last night.
For a lot of campers, attending Camp Sunshine is the highlight of their year.
“Our parents tell us that it is equal to, if not surpassing, their (campers’) birthdays and Christmases,” Terlouw said. “So for them, it’s the high point of their summer, and probably their year. For many of us who work here, it’s also the best time in our summer as well, to be at camp.”