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They have life-threatening sicknesses, but that doesn’t stop them from playtime filled with curiosity, creativity and imagination to forget about the reality of their sickness. They are the children of Camp Sunshine in Casco, Maine, and with the help of Circle K at Keene State College, they will have a whole new array of colorful costumes to chose from to run and dance around in with one another. Circle K collected costumes to be sent to the camp, which some of the members have volunteered for. The camp is one of Circle K’s district projects, according to senior Alex Patrilli. Camp Sunshine is run with donations and volunteers, according to senior Mel Sachs. Many of the Circle K members, including Sachs herself, have worked at the camp and shared how the children personally affected them. “I’ve become really close with a lot of the families there and the kids range from babies to teenagers so it’s really a wide range of opportunities for donations,” Sachs said.
Another member of Circle K, senior Christy Nguyen, has an even closer connection with the children there. “I had cancer, so hearing what they have for younger kids is really cool because I know when I was going through my treatment and everything by myself, I was only sixteen and they didn’t have things for kids like that,” she said. Sachs explained that the camp runs sessions all year long and has a costume party. “They love going in the costume room so we thought it’d be a really cool idea to collect some to donate to them,”she said.
Senior Brittany Bianchi has also volunteered at the camp. She spoke of a weeklong experience she had meeting and working with the children, which included playing games to get them out of the hospital for some time. Bianchi visited the camp again for a Circle K convention and realized the costume room they had for events wasn’t up to date and some of the costumes were damaged. Although she hasn’t been to the camp itself, sophomore Dayne DeGrazia said she hoped Circle K could meet the needs of Camp Sunshine with what they gather during the drive. “It means a lot to them to be able to interact with other kids and live more normal lives than they’re used to so when they get the costumes they get to play more, be more of a kid than what their cancer makes them have to act like.” “Camp is the brightest part of their [children and their families] year because the other parts of the year they’re either grieving a child or a sibling or they’re having to deal with this illness head on, so it’s just making someone’s day by a simple thing that we’re not using,” Sachs said.
When asked what advice she would give children with cancer, survivor Nguyen advised them to “stay positive and just to be there with your family because initially your family and your friends are everything and that although you’re going through tough times now, it does get better. You have people that love you so it helps you.”
Not only are Circle K members collecting costumes for children, but also coats for the Hundred Nights Shelter in Keene. “It’s just kind of one of those no-brainer things where people need coats, people need to be warm in the winter especially in New Hampshire,” junior Lisa Bryant said.
She continued, “I think that if they [people in the shelter] even know they’re getting it from Keene State students, that we support them and we’re building a relationship and it’s not making us higher up than them. I feel like just because they need help doesn’t mean they’re any lower than us and we’re close to them and we’re able to do that,” Bryant said.
Bianchi said that while she hopes for lots of donations, she also hopes the drive will spread awareness about Circle K’s purpose and the organizations the club is trying to assist. When talking about students, she said, “Even though they have a nice place to live, there are other homeless people out there in Keene, like probably even their next door neighbors that need the clothing.” Bryant said that she believed students as a whole tend to keep things they do not use and pointed out that there are plenty of people even in the surrounding community who have a greater need for these coats than those who possess a number of them. She said donating coats and jackets to this cause will be a better use of the items rather than collecting dust.
“Give something to people who will actually use it,” she said and added, “I [Bryant] think we hoard, but we can get rid of that habit and help people at the same time.” According to Sachs, last year Circle K counted over 100 coats after the drive came to an end but believes the group can collect even more than that this time around.
“The whole thing is just a reward itself, just knowing that you made a difference for someone else,” Nguyen said.
Nguyen considered the community one’s first support system and said she believes helping the community around you is where aid and volunteering should start. Sachs said, “It’s simple stuff that we do that can make a big difference, and I think something as simple as this, just sitting at the table or seeing people come up to us being excited about donating the stuff, or not having any other opportunity than what we’re doing to donate it, I think that’s a really cool thing to be a part of.”
Brittany Ballantyne can be contacted at