The Southampton-based Sunshine Foundation isn’t letting anything – not even a global pandemic – stop its 44-year mission of granting the “dreams” of chronically ill and abused children of financially struggling families.
When the organization learned its 18th annual RunWalkBark4Dreams fundraiser, set for June 13 at Tyler State Park, could not safely take place in person, foundation staff brainstormed an alternative, one that would allow people from across the country to participate.
For the first time, the highly anticipated 5K run and 2-mile walk is going virtual. Registrants (both two- and four-legged) can complete either distance at their convenience around their neighborhood, at a park or on a treadmill, through June 21. After registering for $10, directions will be provided on how to track progress through the It’s Your Race app.
“This virtual RunWalkBark4Dreams, it really gave us an opportunity to reach out to everyone to try to gain more support, and even get our mission out all over the country, which is awesome because that way we can help more children and raise more awareness,” said Sunshine Foundation President Kate Sample, who hopes to have at least one participant from each of the 50 states join the cause.
Proceeds will help answer the dreams of children nationwide, including Warminster’s own Emma – a 4-year-old with Chromosome 6q27 deletion and developmental delay, who longs to visit Walt Disney World and ride Dumbo the Flying Elephant. To date, the foundation has made the dreams of more than 41,000 children come true.
Emma was referred to the foundation by her mother, who wrote the following: “Emma is an amazing and beautiful little girl. She has faced so many obstacles and multiple surgeries in the four short years she’s been alive. She doesn’t let her seizures or delays hold her back. She is constantly surprising her doctors and therapists.”
When the theme park resumes operations and it’s safe for Emma to travel, she and her family will stay at the Sunshine Foundation Dream Village. The accessible space, which includes nine cottages, was the brainwave of Bill Sample – a Philadelphia police officer who founded the organization in 1976.
“He was hoping the children from our area, or from wherever, could actually stay in their own little fairytale village,” said Sample. “It’s a seven-and-a-half-acre fairytale resort.”
Everything, including airfare, park tickets, spending money and transportation to and from the airport, is taken care of by the foundation. According to Sample, its top priority is to give a memorable, happy experience to families who cannot afford a vacation on their own and who desperately need a break from the stress of endless doctors’ appointments.
“Something in the wish-granting area that makes Sunshine Foundation very unique is, we do have household income limitations. No other wish-granting organization does. Our founder Bill Sample, his goal and Sunshine’s, has been to reach out to children whose parents can’t afford to give them that special dream or wish. Many times, because of the conditions of the child, it can be financially straining when you have a child with special needs. Medical services do not pay for everything, so families have to do a lot on their own financially.”
Another distinct aspect of Sunshine Foundation is that “dream” recipients do not have to have a life-threatening diagnosis. As long as the child is ages 3 to 18, has a lifelong severe chronic healthcare diagnosis (such as spina bifida, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome or low-functioning autism) or suffers from trauma due to abuse, and resides in a household with an income limit of $75,000, the organization will work to help them.
While Disney dreams are postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the foundation is able to answer other dream requests, including the installation of an above-ground swimming pool and purchase of an Apple watch.
The fundraising goal for 2020’s RunWalkBark4Dreams is $15,000, and a portion has already been provided by sponsors, including NRG, Doc Bresler’s Cavity Busters, John Kennedy Ford, Philadelphia Insurance Companies, Innovative Implant and Oral Surgery, WSFS Bank, McHales Cares, E J Medical Supply, Law Office of Frannie Reilly, LLC, Rotary Club of Warminster Foundation and Five Ponds Golf Club.
“We always have children on our waiting list, so the more funds we can raise, the more excited we are,” said Sample. “We appreciate anybody who can support us. The Sunshine Foundation is very grassroots, not a lot of brick and mortar, just two staff locations. We have a lot of children we need to help, so we’re grateful for any kind of support.”
Visit sunshinefoundation.org for more information on the organization and how to refer a child.
If you go: Sunshine Foundation’s 18th annual RunWalkBark4Dreams can be completed virtually anytime through June 21. Participants can choose either a 5K run or 2-mile walk. Registration is $10, and can be completed at thesunshinefoundationvirtualrace.itsyourrace.com until June 21, at 10 p.m. All registrants must run or walk their virtual race by 11:59 p.m. on June 21. Wear something yellow and send results, photos and videos via your personal Facebook page by tagging Sunshine Foundation through @sunfound and #SunshineFoundation.
Samantha Bambino can be reached at email@example.com