Three years ago, while volunteering as a counselor at Sunrise Day Camp, a program coordinated by the Sunrise Association, which offers year-round programs, day camps and in-hospital recreational activities to children fighting cancer and their siblings free of cost, Roslyn-native Max Miller made a connection with a young camper named Lane as they sat on the sidelines of the basketball court. It was then that Miller realized there was something missing from the opportunities and activities at the camp.
“I was talking to him about Pokémon Go and were talking about technology,” said Miller.
As a self-proclaimed “computer geek,” Miller prefers coding languages and robotics over playing sports or joining a band.
“The camper said that he really wished that the camp had a computer lab so that I could teach him how to code,” explained Miller. “He was always interested in it, but he never knew an easy place to do it or where to learn it.”
That night, Miller went home and immediately started a crowdfunding campaign to raise the funds to build a computer lab at the camp. This is how the S.T.E.A.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) Shack came to be.
“Max recognized that children are not homogeneous,” said Artie Preminger, president and CEO of the Sunrise Association. “We offered a lot of outdoor activities and sports for the campers, but not every child enjoys or is capable of those activities.”
One of Miller’s goals in helping to create this program was to embrace the differences among the campers.
“One of the best things is that kids who go to this camp are all very different,” said Miller. “Some have mental or physical disabilities that prevent them from being able to go out and play sports or do physical activity. To give them something like technology could really just change their life.”
Each day over the summer, an average of 100 to 125 children participate in S.T.E.A.M. activities, giving them the opportunity learn valuable skills that can translate to future careers, especially if they miss long periods of school due to their illness.
“They fall behind in school, some don’t even get into college, but to give them technology, it is one of the most useful things to know,” said Miller. “To give kids who may slip through the cracks or fall behind skills that are so useful and so prevalent is really just an amazing thing.”
After two years of development in a mobile classroom, Miller’s crowdfunding efforts have transformed into a program with more than 30 corporate sponsors and more than half a million dollars raised. Now, the next step is building the S.T.E.A.M. Shack so the program can continue to grow and expand the opportunities it offers campers.
On March 15, the dreams of having a S.T.E.A.M. activity center became a reality when the construction team broke ground and began to carry out of this next crucial step. The Sunrise Day Camp has been around since 2006 and this new building is an enormous addition to their efforts to “bring back the joys of childhood” to children with cancer and their siblings.
“This operation has been building upon itself since 2006,” said Preminger. “To get to this point is just an incredible milestone.”
Family and friends of Max Miller, members of the Sunrise Association’s executive board, Sunrise Day Camp staffers, and proud sponsors all came out to celebrate the commencement of the building’s construction and the impact the program and the camp has on their participants.
“In 2006, when this program became an idea, we were the first contributor and the gateway for the program to gain campers at Sloan Kettering,” said Michael Rosenberg, a representative for the Laura Rosenberg Foundation, a major sponsor of the project. “It’s been a while since we’ve done a project and of course this is just larger than life.”
The hope is that the S.T.E.A.M. Shack will be completely finished for the upcoming 2019 summer camp. Miller is mostly concerned with how happy the campers will be to have a new activity space.
“To just finally have it being built is amazing,” said Miller. “I’ve been telling the campers that it’s coming and now the ground’s finally being broken and it’s happening. I’m just so excited for the campers to see it.”