A Ray of Sunshine

For children fighting cancer, the world can seem like a dark place. A New York dealer is shining a little light in their lives.
by Kristen Orsborn
September/October 2019
A Ray of Sunshine
Packed with Sunshine
Sunrise Toyota Dealer Principal Jimmy Berg loads a trunk with craft supplies for a Sunrise on Wheels event at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Sunrise on Wheels brings camp to children in hospitals who are too sick to go outside.

Jimmy Berg is, by any metric, a very successful car dealer. He’s sold countless cars for more than 30 years, all while helming dealerships in Baltimore and New York. His Long Island Toyota dealership, Sunrise Toyota, has won the President’s Award 17 times. But ask him about his work with the Sunrise Association — a nonprofit organization whose mission is to bring back the joys of childhood to children with cancer and their siblings through day camps, year-round programs and in-hospital recreational activities, all free of charge — and that’s when his face lights up.

“Selling cars, servicing cars and satisfying customers is certainly gratifying,” Berg says. “It’s what we do as car dealers. But at the end of the day, to make a difference in the community and to make a difference in people’s lives — that gives you a much bigger meaning in life.”

Sunrise Association Day Camps serve a unique need. While they’re focused on children fighting cancer, their siblings are welcome to attend — so brothers and sisters can bond outside of a hospital. And their parents can have a little rest, too.

Berg volunteers his time as a board member, helping steer the direction of Sunrise Association Day Camps across the country and abroad. But through his dealership, he’s been able to provide tens of thousands of dollars in support, making it possible for children from all walks of life to attend at no cost to their families, who are oftentimes facing huge medical costs.

“Every repair order we write, we donate a dollar to Sunrise Association Day Camps,” Berg says. “We also ask the customer when they’re checking out if they would like to match the donation. And many customers do. We also utilize the match program that Toyota gives us, maxing out our donation to Sunrise Association Day Camps.”

But if you want to know the real impact of Berg’s generosity, ask one of the campers.

“I feel like all of the pressure is taken off my chest when I’m there,” says Shamil, a boy who has attended camp in the New York area. “I feel like I can put the medicine and the cancer to the side and just enjoy my life.”

The effect is similarly profound for parents trying to cope with the unimaginable stress of seeing a child face such an insidious disease.

“Sunrise enables them to see their children be children, while they’re going through something no child should ever go through,” says volunteer Linda Alpert.

In a typical year, the Sunrise Association serves more than 7,000 children at locations throughout the United States and Israel. For children who are too sick to leave the hospital, there’s “Sunrise on Wheels” an innovative program that provides a day filled with camp fun to children awaiting treatment in pediatric oncology units of participating hospitals.

In the years to come, Sunrise hopes to expand to even more communities — all made possible thanks to the generosity of people like Berg.

The Association’s Senior Vice President of Development, Beth Fetner, has worked closely with Berg to organize camp events for children fighting cancer. “His generosity makes it possible for these kids — and their families — to have a little bit of joy during a very difficult time in their lives,” she says. “We’re so grateful for his support.” 

In recognition of his efforts, Jimmy and his wife, Harriet, will be honored with the Sunrise Champion Award at the Association’s Seventh Annual Dare to Dream Gala.

“Organizations like ours rely on people like Jimmy, who are willing to take their time, resources, connections and finances and make sure we have the support system we need to operate,” says Arnie Preminger, president and CEO of the Sunrise Association. “His question is always, ‘How can I help?’ He’s always there.”

And Berg intends to always be there — helping however he can.

“We’ve received letters from parents saying the happiest day of their child’s life was their day at Sunrise Day Camp,” Berg says. “That makes you realize the difference we’re making in their lives.”

To learn more or donate, check out sunriseassociation.org or contact Beth Fetner, senior vice president of Development: beth.fetner@sunriseassociation.org..
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