Club Spotlight — Project Sunshine
Issue   |   Wed, 11/16/2011 - 02:41
Photo courtesy of projectsunshine.org
Project Sunshine is a nonprofit organization that focuses on connecting student volunteers with children living with medical challenges to enrich their lives.

Too often, we all get caught up in a routine. An over-scheduled, hectic routine, but a routine nonetheless. Of course, it’s easy to fall into this pattern. Of course, the activities we choose are fun. Considering, however, all the great organizations and clubs on campus, I suggest for you to try something new. Be spontaneous.

A quick visit to the Amherst home page yields a long list of interestingly titled student groups and publications. Unfortunately, most of these links lead to outdated webpages or uninformative descriptions. Like many other first-year students, I went to the club fair at the beginning of the year. Despite being slightly overwhelmed by the dozens of tables and the ridiculous amounts of candy, I found the event to be extremely helpful. I decided to pursue a mix of new and old activities. Amherst, however, has a club fair only once a year. At the beginning of the year, many of my fellow first-years wanted to limit their extracurricular involvement as they became adjusted to college life. Now, they find themselves eager to join something new. Yet, there remains no consistent and accurate means of learning about all the student groups on campus. I wanted to write this column to give students another means of finding out about clubs on campus. Every two weeks, I will cover a low-visibility but highly-interesting group. For my first article, I decided to cover Project Sunshine.

Project Sunshine is a nonprofit organization that provides one-on-one interactions for children living with medical challenges. The national organization has 150 major sites and 10,000 volunteers nationwide providing recreational, educational and social services to over 60,000 children. The Project Sunshine website explains that its “volunteers spread sunshine, restoring a crucial sense of normalcy to the pediatric healthcare environment.” The College’s chapter volunteers about once a month at a nearby hospital in Springfield, about 30 minutes away.

Last Thursday night I went to the Project Sunshine’s introductory meeting to find out more about our chapter. In Pruyne lecture hall, about 15 students — mostly girls — were ready to find out more about Project Sunshine and eager to volunteer. Catherine Choi ’15, a new member, explaining her motivation for coming to the meeting, said, “I really like community service.” In particular, Choi was interested in Project Sunshine because, as a kid, she had a mentally disabled friend and said, “I think this is a really meaningful way to give back.”

At the podium, the club came to order as sophomores Laura Poole, Noelle Niu and Amelia Schoenbeck introduced the club. After an enthusiastic introduction, the trio played a short informational video from the Project Sunshine website that featured heartwarming interviews with volunteers and children as well as scenes of children at play to show the members in the audience what the club is all about.

The video also doubled as training for prospective volunteers. Towards the end, the narrator explained the very simple rules volunteers must follow. Most of the precautions were very straightforward, following directly from hospital safety regulations and what to keep in mind when interacting with children living with medical challenges. Project Sunshine, however, warns against volunteering if you think you will feel uncomfortable among children with medical challenges. Schoenbeck later explained, “if you get nervous you should not volunteer because it reinforces for the kids that they are in a sticky situation.” She later added that for those who still want to participate, the club will put on an event called Sending Sunshine in early December where those interested can make crafts at Amherst.

After the training, new members seemed eager to volunteer. The club leaders explained that the club travels about once a month on Sundays to the hospitals to play and make arts and crafts with the children. Niu said “the kids really appreciate it” when a volunteer spends time with them. Schoenbeck explained that she likes to volunteer with Project Sunshine because she likes “giving back to the community” and “getting out of our isolated college campus into a real family environment.”

Schoenbeck, Niu and Poole along with Zack Gerdes ’14 have managed the club since the beginning of the year, taking over from a now overly-busy senior writing a thesis. Under the new management, this group of sophomores seeks to continue volunteering more frequently and with more members. Although the club meets only a few times a year on campus for informational meetings, any interested prospective members should contact Gerdes via email.

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