Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Caring Causes: Serious Fun Children's Network

Every child deserves the chance to be a kid. Nobody believed this more than Paul Newman, who had a vision to create a place for children with serious illnesses where they could have fun and just be kids. More than two decades ago, he founded a camp where the joy of playing and laughing had a profound impact allowing children to reach beyond their illnesses and discover strength, hope and resilience. From this one camp, SeriousFun Children’s Network has become a global community of 29 camps and programs providing life-changing experiences to children with serious illnesses and their families, free of charge.

Today, SeriousFun serves more than 380,000 children and their families, including over 250,000 children from 50 countries. Paul always said, “It’s all about the kids.” In keeping with his philosophy, 100% of every donation directly benefits camps and kids, because 100% of the administrative expenses of SeriousFun are covered by their Board of Directors and Newman’s Own Foundation. 
If you are interested in learning more about SeriousFun, watch the organization’s new PSA, “Paul’s Vision,” featuring Julia Roberts and Bruce Willis, and also visit the website. 
I had the opportunity to interview SeriousFun’s President and CEO, John Read. John has extensive experience in the not-for-profit sector having also served as President and CEO of Outward Bound, a non-profit educational organization, prior to joining SeriousFun.  Having also held several federal and state government positions, John was selected for a “Giving Back Award” by Newsweek magazine as one of fifteen individuals who make America great.

How did you get involved with SeriousFun Children's Network?

I worked for Outward Bound for a number of years…another child-centered organization. When I left a few years ago, a friend on the SeriousFun board encouraged me to consider this position and I’m glad he did. Children with life-threatening illnesses were about the only kids Outward Bound couldn’t serve, and the experiences are quite similar in that both organizations provide young people with challenging, transformative and safe experiences.

What sets this organization apart from other child-oriented organizations?

There are many child-centered organizations in this country and most do very good work.  There just aren’t that many organizations serving children with life-threatening illnesses.   And those that do serve children with serious illnesses are often focused on what these kids can’t do instead of what they can accomplish. A SeriousFun camp is about inclusion and barrier-free access to your own childhood. Safety and medical care are highly professional and inconspicuous. The intentionality of all of that is distinctive among our camps.

Why is it important to have separate camps for children with serious illnesses?

Initially it may seem counter-intuitive because one would think ‘main-streaming’ these kids would make more sense.  Yet children with serious illness can feel so isolated and stigmatized by their condition that connecting with normal kids can be overwhelming.  A special place where they can do anything with kids who are experiencing the same thing helps to bring them out of this isolation and equip them for the ‘normal’ world.

How can families support friends or family members that may have children with major illnesses?

If someone you know has a child who has been diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, you might feel helpless and even desperate to help. That is how that family is feeling…parents and siblings alike.

Research has shown that extended family and friends play a tremendous role in helping children and their immediate families deal with a serious illness. Expressions of sympathy are far less effective than supportive actions, and the list of things families can do is for the most part directed at helping that family be a family and the child be a kid.  

How can people who have a child with a serious illness learn more?

If people have a child with a serious illness and are interested in learning how their child can attend a SeriousFun camp, they should contact us at info@seriousfunnetwork.org.

How can people help support SeriousFun?

Each of our member camps is an independent, not-for-profit organization dependent upon private funding and the kindness of others to serve these children and their families free of charge. The SeriousFun Network is supported by our board and Newman’s Own Foundation so that every dollar we raise goes to camps and campers. To provide financial support to any or all of our camps and programs go to seriousfunnetwork.org.

You can also raise money for any and all camps through events and runs from 10ks to marathons by visiting teamseriousfun.org

Finally, much of what happens at camp is supported by volunteers. At seriousfunnetwork.org, you can find the camp nearest you, and make it personal!

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