Philanthropy Friday: Giving Back is SeriousFun

Each Friday, the another jennifer blog shares stories of those who incorporate philanthropy into their everyday lives – personally and professionally – in a creative and unique way. If you have a story you’d like to share, please contact Jennifer.

I was at the pool when a 15 year old boy got out after a swim, his prosthetic leg sitting pool side for an hour. After chit-chatting with him for a bit, he said to me, “You know Pádraig, this would only happen at camp. Only at camp could you have 4 other legs around a pool not attached to anyone and that is a normal day of swimming.” We never thought about having it any other way. Camp allows you to connect with a person for who they are; we don’t let their illnesses define them.

The above quote is from Pádraig Barry, the Director of Camp Support Services at SeriousFun Children’s Network. SeriousFun began more than two decades ago with Paul Newman’s vision of seriously ill children having a chance to simply be children and raising “a little hell.” Newman opened The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp for children with serious illnesses in Ashford, CT in 1988. Today, SeriousFun has 30 camps and programs all over the globe and is still growing. Because of the backing of Newman’s Own Foundation, 100% of the administrative expenses are covered and so 100% of donations go directly to the camps and kids. (This is a very rare thing in the nonprofit world!)

I had the opportunity to interview Pádraig by email. I liked his answers to my questions so much that I decided to just copy and paste them here rather than writing a new post. Enjoy!
SeriousFunCollage What does “giving back” mean to you and how do you encourage others to do so?

Giving back means numerous things – giving of time, energy, friendship, effort, knowledge, smiles and love. I am fortunate to have all of these elements in my life. Sharing that with others, especially the campers and staff, is an incredible privilege. Although it sounds like a cliché, you get so much more in return. SeriousFun is about living for the moment. SeriousFun is about connecting here and now. Making children laugh who are dealing with tough issues makes you feel incredible. There’s no sense of feeling sorry….feeling down. Telling people about the power of SeriousFun and the opportunities to change a child’s life forever tends to get them interested in becoming involved with our organization.

What kind of impact has SeriousFun made in the many communities it serves? 

SeriousFun Camps have made a significant impact in the treatment of children and families dealing with life-threatening illnesses. The doctors and nurses perform an incredible task by treating the part of the child that is sick…broken…changed. SeriousFun camps treat the rest of the person – the part that is not sick. We have helped children maintain their confidence and hope while dealing with illness. At a SeriousFun camp, every child is a child first. There is nothing that defines them more than being a child, and we want to help preserve and celebrate that important fact. And we do so through every intentional interaction that occurs at camp – from the individualized greeting each camper receives at the start of camp to the personalized award each child receives at the end of camp. We celebrate the individual.

I see SeriousFun has camps all around the globe. How do you determine where the camps will open?

We have a very deliberate process of determining if an organization should join the SeriousFun Children’s Network. The genesis of each new camp is slightly different from the other. Most camps have been started by incredible people who have somehow heard about Paul Newman’s work with children and are inspired to try and make something happen in a similar manner. Camps conduct “needs assessments” to demonstrate that the services are needed. They must build a strong Board of Directors to help them fundraise, think strategically, and be sustainable for the long run. Fortunately, the SeriousFun Children’s Network Board is comprised of people who have successfully started camps so they can expertly guide and mentor others who decide to undertake this incredible process.

Where do you see SeriousFun in 5 years?

In five years, our goal is to have successfully executed a comprehensive strategic plan for growth, serving close to 100,000 children and families annually worldwide. The need and demand for more camps exist, and we need partners who will work with us to reach our goal. We will have a sustainable presence on five continents. We will engage tens of thousands of volunteers each year to help us make these programs a reality. SeriousFun will also become a descriptor of how to interact with children and families dealing with chronic and life-threatening illness and rare blood diseases.

SeriousFun logo

Want to get involved with SeriousFun? Check out their volunteer opportunities, a cool new endurance training and fundraising program, follow them on Twitter or like them on Facebook.

If you know of a child with a serious illness and would like to learn more about attending a SeriousFun camp, contact SeriousFun at

On a side note, we buy Newman’s Own products all the time. While the labels say that all proceeds go to charity, I always wondered who benefited. Kind of makes you want to buy more salad dressing and marinara sauce, doesn’t it?

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  1. says

    I love hearing stories about when “real stars” give back. What an amazing and generous man. I’ve heard of this foundation and the work they do it’s just spectacular. To bad more don’t use their fame for the kids in this manner.
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  2. says

    And Frozen pizza too!! What an amazing place and an incredibly passionate purpose for this organization. I love how he says that the docs etc treat the broken, changed, ill parts of the kids and we treat the rest. I just love his perspective. What a fantastic post Jennifer. I’m so glad you posted the entire interview!
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    • says

      His answers were so great, there was no way I could cut or change anything. They told me they really enjoyed my questions too. Very fun! I love that people take the time to do this kind of stuff.

  3. says

    One of the greatest highlights in my life was attending a gala for Hole in the Wall Gang Camps and spending time with Paul Newman. He was as amazing as I thought he would be. Love this post, and I love what they are doing to help children. Stopping by from SITS Saturday Sharefest, and so glad I did. :)-Ashley
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