Nonprofits Assist Families Battling Serious Illnesses

By Alison Wenger January 5, 2016
As we begin this new year, all of us at Macaroni Kid wish you a healthy and happy year ahead.

Unfortunately, sometimes life gives us a difficult road to travel, and this month we would like to highlight three organizations focused on assisting those battling cancer and other life-threatening illnesses.

Camp Sunshine

Camp Sunshine provides week-long retreats focusing on families. Each week focuses on a different illness and allows parents, siblings, and children battling the illness to connect with others in a similar situation. These retreats combine respite, recreation and support, and include on-site medical and psychosocial support.

Located at Sebago Lake in Casco, Maine, Camp Sunshine offers more than 25 sessions annually, serving as many as 750 families (3,000 family members) per year. The camp serves families of children diagnosed with cancer, hematologic conditions, renal disease, systemic lupus erythematosus, and who have undergone solid organ transplantation. In addition, bereavement programming is hosted in the spring and fall for families who have lost a child to an illness.

“Camp Sunshine is a place that families can come and find support from people in similar situations,” said Nancy Cincotta, Psychosocial Director at Camp Sunshine. “It is not infrequent that a family will tell me that the experience is life- changing for them. It truly is an amazing place for the child who is ill, the sibling and the parents. Where else can you go that everyone can find a little peace of mind?”

Starting now in January, Camp Sunshine is hosting polar plunges with the goal of raising $400,000 over the next five months. Learn more about these events, as well as how you can volunteer and support their goal by visiting

Mary’s Place by the Sea

Mary’s Place by the Sea, a respite home in Ocean Grove, N.J., accommodates the emotional and physical needs of women nationwide who are receiving treatment for all types of cancers. Guests have a place for rest and support, while being empowered with knowledge that will aid them on their road to healing: mind, body and soul.

“It is important for women battling cancer to be pampered and to take a moment for themselves, because we find that it is difficult for women to surrender the daily 'to do' list and receive much-needed emotional support,” said co-founder and President, Michele Gannon. “We find that our guests tend to go into survival mode and shut down emotionally as it is easier than acknowledging the fear and anger at the cancer."

“Through oncology massage, guided meditation, nutritional coaching, counseling, yoga and light conversation, we watch guests transform during their three-day stay to empowered, active participants in their healing. It's beautiful to watch and motivates us to continue our mission,” added Gannon.

Mary’s Place, which opened in 2009, serves an average of 55 women per month, at no cost to them. As demand continues to grow, the nonprofit is working to build a larger home to accommodate more guests throughout the United States. The new home is expected to open in early 2016.

Last October Mary’s Place was selected to compete with more than 120 charities in the "Revlon LOVE IS ON Million Dollar Challenge," a campaign geared toward raising awareness for women's cancers, heart disease and diabetes. Mary’s Place was the only N.J. nonprofit organization to place in the top three, raising $183,267.

For more information visit

The Magic Yarn Project

What started out as a project to create a few dozen whimsical wigs for young cancer patients locally in Alaska has grown into so much more as individuals and cancer centers worldwide have expressed interest in getting involved to help make and distribute wigs made by The Magic Yarn Project.

To create head coverings for little cancer patients that are both comfortable and whimsical, Magic Yarn volunteers crochet soft yarn into beanies and then transform them into long, beautiful princess hair. All of the wigs are free to individual recipients and cancer centers/organizations worldwide to help bring a little magic into a very difficult time during these little girls’ lives.

Their yarn wigs are made with soft acrylic yarns and embellished with gems, crocheted flowers and snowflakes, silk flowers, and nylon/polyester ribbons. The wigs are machine washable in a mesh laundry bag and come in two sizes to fit girls up to age 10.

The wigs are made 100 percent by volunteers and funded 100 percent by donations of yarn and money. Current creations include Elsa, Anna, Rapunzel, Ariel, Jasmine, and generic “rainbow” wigs with hopes to include other styles as well as styles for boys in the future.

Since their first workshop in October, The Magic Yarn Project has made more than 100 wigs with plans to make thousands more.

“We would love to provide a wig for every little cancer fighter who could use some magic and fun during their most difficult days,” said co-founder Holly Christensen, an oncology nurse. “We are also planning on bringing wig ­making workshops to various communities nationwide in 2016 and will soon be providing video tutorials on our websites so that ‘Magic Makers’ everywhere can get involved in creating these wigs."

Learn more at