Chilly commitment helps send families to camp

Lynne Klaft, Correspondent
Josh Lafreniere, left, and Mike Hutchinson jump into a pool of frigid water at the Camp Sunshine Wachusett Polar Dip at Wachusett Mountain Ski Area in Princeton on Saturday. [Photo/Matthew Healey]

PRINCETON - Cindy Hanam has taken the plunge in the icy outdoor pool on Wachusett Mountain for the past 6 years. She still gets nervous.

“Oh my god it hurts! Takes your breath away for a moment, but you feel really good afterward, and it’s for a great cause, a camp for kids with life-threatening diseases,” she said.

Camp Sunshine on the shores of Sebago Lake, Maine, is the destination for 150 Massachusetts families every year. They spend a week, free of charge.

Mark Bourgeois of Pepperell brought a team of 35 dippers called “Dippin’ for Danny.”

His family experienced Camp Sunshine 22 years ago. His son Danny was being treated for a brain tumor at Massachusetts General Hospital.

“They knew Danny didn’t have much time left and talked us into going to the camp. There are lots of services offered right at the camp, doctors and nurses. It was an unbelievable experience, we have photos, memories of our time there. Danny died two months later,” he said.

He has been an ardent supporter of the camp ever since. This year, his team raised $21,000 toward the $250,000 goal of sending families to Camp Sunshine.

Over 200 dippers took part in this year’s plunge, teams and individuals alike, all ages, from towns all over North Central Massachusetts.

The Wachusett Mountain plunge is one of nine events that are happening this March.

“We have raised over $50,000 today, the biggest plunge ever and we couldn’t be happier,” said Mike Smith, the Camp Sunshine director.

“We have a team here, “Hillary’s Chuck” that have 60 people taking the plunge today,” he added.

Emily Hutchinson of Leominster was Hillary Bartlett Newsome’s best friend. Ms. Newsome was 27 years old when she died a year ago. Her family decided to start a foundation in her name to support families with children with autism and life-threatening diseases.

“Oh yeah, I’m going to take the plunge today. Hillary and I started this team in 2009 after she volunteered at the camp. The first year we had 4 people and raised $1,500, this year it’s 60 people and we raised $13,700. I think Hillary would be proud,” said Ms. Hutchinson.

“It doesn’t really hurt you know. All you have to do is think of those kids. If you suffer for just a minute or two, it’s worth it. I volunteered at the camp last November in memory of Hillary, and I will be going back again. I got roped in by my best friend, now I’m falling in love with it. The people at camp are like family. Afterward, you have forever friends. I miss her the most at times like this, but it’s worth it,” said Ms. Hutchinson.

At the end of the week at Camp Sunshine, a week filled with swimming, kayaking, crafts, mini golf, counseling, networking, a quiet walk in the woods - whatever the families are up for - Ms. Hanam says the kids are given little boats with lit candles in them. They make a wish and launch them into the lake.

“It’s a very emotional time, there are more than a few tears. That’s why we are here today,” she said.

Visit for more information.