Sunrise Walk to support children with cancer draws record crowd


More than 3,000 participants joined Long Island’s 19th annual SunriseWALKS to support children with cancer on June 2, far surpassing any previous totals for the walk.

The walk took place in Wheatley Hights at the Sunrise Day Camp, though the Sunrise Association is based in Ocean-side. The event had three different walk courses available at 0.75, 1.7, or 3.1 miles.

“Last year, we estimated between 2,000 to 2,200 people. From all accounts this was a record turnout,” Chris Strom, chief marketing officer of Sunrise Association, which held the walk, said. “Everyone was just in such good spirits, and it was such a feel-good event.”

Besides the Long Island walk, the Sunrise Association has held walks in Staten Island, Atlanta, the Metro DC area, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Chicago.

Before the walk began at 10 AM, a complimentary breakfast was served for the walk’s participants and more than 100 corporate sponsors. The breakfast was sponsored by The Bristol assisted living, and by All Round Foods, a local bakery.

In addition, many different characters and companies were invited to attend the walk.

“We had Kismet Clowns, Star Wars characters, like the 501 Legion group were there, Mr. Met was there,” Suzanne Beck, national walks director of the Sunrise Association, said. “We had Magical Moments, a volunteer group that sends different Disney princesses out to events. The LIU dance team was there, cheering (the participants) on.”

At the end of the walk, participants were led through the “Heroes Alley” into a festival with carnival games and inflatables, and a barbecue was held for the participants as well. Treats like cotton candy and popcorn were available, as well as a “swag section,” where the presenting sponsor, Nikon, gave away free merchandise.

Despite the huge turnout, SunriseWALKS has yet to meet its fundraising goal of $1.1 million, raising more than $600,000 in donations for this year’s Long Island walk.

“Ever since Covid, the fundraising total hasn’t reached what it used to before the pandemic,” Strom said. “So we’re still building back. We’re very grateful for the funds raised, but we’re still encouraging our community and our participants to continue raising. If it weren’t for the community, we wouldn’t raise anything. It’s just really heartwarming that our mission resonates with the community so well.”

All the money raised through the donations goes directly to the Sunrise Day Camp, the Sunrise Association’s summer day camp for children with cancer and their siblings. The eight-week-long camp kicks off on June 27 and is offered to families free of charge. The donations also help support Sunrise on Wheels, a branch of the Sunrise Association that brings aspects of the camp to area hospitals.

“We wheel a tie-dye trunk full of toys and games into cancer wards,” Strom said. “We have volunteers and coordinators to just brighten up the day of kids that are in the hospital, in these cancer wings.”

Providing these services free of charge to young cancer patients and their families is extremely important. A pediatric cancer diagnosis could cost more than $800,000 for a family, taking into account treatments and other medical costs, transportation, and the possible loss of household income, if the parents become full-time caretakers.

“Sunrise Association’s mission is to bring the joys of childhood back to children with cancer and their siblings worldwide,” Strom said. “This mission is accomplished through the creation and oversight of welcoming, inclusive summer day camps, year round programs and in-hospital recreational activities.”

Sunrise on Wheels is especially important for the children who are unable to attend the day camp because they are immunocompromised or undergoing treatments that make them unable to enjoy all the camp has to offer.

“When they come to Sunrise Day Camp, it’s a world of ‘yes,’ when so many times they live in a world of ‘no,’” Beck said.

The camp features arts and crafts, swim time, a rock wall, mini golf, as well as a STEAM cabin and the Nikon photography cabins. If a camper isn’t quite feeling up to being active on a particular day, the camp also has designated “quiet spaces” where the children can relax and rest.

The services are made possible through the money raised by sponsors and participants of the Sunrise Association’s walk events as well as other donations made throughout the year.