Where the sun rises on courage and hope.
Destiny Saffell was a miracle baby. The 17-year-old honor student from Central Ohio was born perfectly healthy to a mother battling HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Always by her mother's side, Destiny learned at a young age about the harsh stigma associated with the disease and the challenges that come while staring death in the face.
While Destiny was forced to grow up very quickly, she found a retreat that has become a yearly safe haven for her and for children whose families are impacted by HIV/AIDS. It is a place of unconditional love called Camp Sunrise.
"In my life, Camp Sunrise has meant family, a location where there are no secrets, no drama, only support," Destiny said. "I would have not been the person I am today without Camp Sunrise because I was able to get away from the pain at home and forget about the struggle I have endured by having a single parent who can get sick and die."
For six days each summer, Camp Sunrise uses a YMCA camp site near Cincinnati to provide a safe, comfortable and confidential environment for 110 children from around Ohio whose lives are impacted by HIV/AIDS. This includes children like Destiny who have a parent with HIV/AIDS, children with siblings who have the disease, and children who are battling the disease themselves.
Campers enjoy experiences like horseback riding, zip lining, canoeing and roughing it in cabins. They acquire the same camping experience that any child can have, but these campers leave with so much more.
"It is not just about a week of horseback riding and swimming," said Cheryl Foley, Camp Sunrise's executive director. "It gives kids a place to get skills to deal with their disease. You have kids who are out about their disease interacting with kids who have never talked about it. They all get a lot out of that interaction."
Pam Bellomy, who has fostered three children with AIDS, agreed. Knowing the disease will likely rob her boys of precious years, Bellomy said Camp Sunrise was a way to offer them private happiness they could not find anywhere else.
"If they couldn't have quantity of life, let them have quality," Bellomy said. "My children got freedom. They got to go to camp. They got to play without being afraid to say the wrong things to people."
Bellomy said her boys will start planning for the next year at camp the minute they return home. It is a ritual for many of these children who get so much out of the experience and the bonds they form.
Unfortunately some of the lessons at camp include facing the cruel and painful reality of HIV/AIDS when a camper does not return because the disease has taken its toll. While children are never required to talk about the disease, camp counselors and medical staff are on standby to help them grieve.
During the 16 years that Camp Sunrise has been in existence, tremendous improvements in medicine have not only enhanced these young lives but also lengthened them.
"We are seeing huge progress for people living with HIV," said Charon Callaway, a nurse and case manager for the Family AIDS Clinic and Educational Services at Nationwide Children's Hospital.
"Children today are healthy and well," Callaway added. "They can expect to live a long life."
Sadly, the stigma associated with the disease is still very real. It's even more reason, Callaway said, for a place like Camp Sunrise to exist.
"It makes me very sad that these children cannot go to camp anywhere," Callaway said. "This disease is like no other."
The camp is free of charge to the families whose children attend it. The organization operates without a central office as part of its founders' commitment to make sure every dollar in donations goes to sending kids to Camp Sunrise.
Destiny Saffell said she was named for the opportunities that her mother will never see. She also knows there will come a day when she will no longer be by her mother's side.
"I plan on being someone in life and doing things that my mother was not able to do because of her disease," Destiny said.
Destiny credits Camp Sunrise with giving her hope for the days she has left with her mother. The bonds she formed at camp will give her the strength to face whatever comes next.
"When all hope is gone, never give up," Destiny said, "because the relationships developed from Camp Sunrise will never die."