Children got their minds off cancer during a weeklong theater camp in Maitland
Bright oranges, greens and reds danced together on the canvasses pinned to the trunk of an oak tree.
Pulling on their parents' arm, the campers raced to point out which painting they had created during their weeklong stay at Sandy Bonus Fine Arts in Maitland.
The campers — cancer fighters, cancer survivors and their siblings — then hurried behind the stage, readying their homemade fairy, fish and horse puppets for their performance of "Stars in the Sky."
It's the fifth year that Bonus, Day Gigliotti and volunteers have put on the art camp for B.A.S.E Camp Children's Cancer Foundation. This year, the nine participants made art books that included an artist statement.
Every statement had one aspect in common — art's effect on them.
"I like to paint," Danny wrote. "It makes me feel calm and happy."
"I like to draw because it makes me feel relaxed," Olivia wrote.
"I like to paint because it focuses my creativity," Xica wrote. "It relaxes me."
Happiness and peace of mind are emotions that can be hard to achieve for a child battling cancer or for a sibling of a sick child, said Jackie Ellis, executive director of B.A.S.E. Camp.
"The population we serve is fragile," Ellis said. "The camp is just magic in a bottle, magic in a bottle."
Bonus said that the weeklong camp helps the children express themselves through art, relieves stress and helps them learn about their true self.
"Being able to create makes them feel in control," Bonus said.
B.A.S.E. Camp, which stands for Believe, Achieve, Support, Educate, has been supporting Central Florida children with cancer and their families for 26 years. Seventy-five percent of their nonprofit organizations' programs are held at hospitals, including lunches and twice-weekly dinner and a movie celebrations.
"Our mission is to hold the family's hand," Ellis said, adding that B.A.S.E. Camp changed her own daughter's life.
The children navigated their puppets in front of the backdrop they created — a whimsical place draped with sparkling stars. In the play, the girl wants nothing more than to play with the stars in the sky. A horse, fairies and a fish try to help her get there.
Jason Shader Smith, a four-year camp volunteer, has watched the children in the camp reach those metaphoric stars.
He said one of the siblings of a cancer survivor was depressed because her mother had to devote her attention to her brother during the five years that he was sick. Since attending the camp two years in a row and being involved in other B.A.S.E. Camp activities, she's no longer depressed.
"This is something special," Smith said. "I see lives turned around. It takes their mind completely off (the disease)."
B.A.S.E. Camp needs volunteers and donations. The campers' painting will be auctioned off at their next fundraiser. For more information, visit basecamp.org.