Summer Camp for Kids With XP Comes to Life After Dark

Pat David via Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0
Pat David via Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0 / Pat David via Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Camp Sundown in upstate New York offers children a unique summer experience. Instead of afternoons spent hiking in the brutal heat or rope-swinging into sun-soaked ponds, campers wait to enjoy the outdoors until after the sun has set. That’s because the children staying there were born with xeroderma pigmentosum (XP), a rare disorder that leaves them seriously sensitive to the sun's ultraviolet rays.

By day, children with XP are forced to shutter themselves indoors or cover every inch of skin if they ever need to venture outside. But by night, Camp Sundown gives campers a chance to explore the outside world in the company of kids just like them.

Dan and Caren Mahar founded the camp in 1996 to give their daughter, who has XP, a summer camp experience that wouldn’t threaten her life. Thanks to donations, the camp has since evolved from a family retreat moving from hotel to hotel to a 11,000-square-foot building in the Mahars' backyard in Craryville, N.Y.

Typical activities don’t differ too far from what you’d find at any other camp: campers enjoy rock-wall climbs, Slip ’n Slides, and field trips to mini-golf courses. The major difference is that all outdoor activities take place in the quiet, moonlit hours of night and early morning. Everything is provided for free to campers thanks to the kindness of charities and neighbors. The most impressive event, organized by volunteers, is the annual nocturnal festival which features fire trucks, bounce houses, and a midnight baseball game. Kids coming home from Camp Sundown should have no problem talking about what they did over the summer.