[Skip to Content]

Upstate University Hospital sponsors first Stroke Camp Sept. 6, 7 and 8

Upstate sponsors Stroke Camp


Upstate University Hospital will sponsor New York state’s first Stroke Camp Sept. 6 to 8 at Greek Peak Mountain Resort in Cortland, N.Y.

Camp activities are planned by the United Stroke Alliance, which partners with hospitals across the country to offer Stroke Camp. Stroke survivors and their caregivers will enjoy a weekend filled with outdoor activities, entertainment, educational sessions, games, and relaxation.

More than a dozen volunteers—six from Upstate University Hospital—will be on site to support 10 survivors and 10 caregivers throughout the weekend.

According to executive director Marylee Nunley, the mission of Retreat and Refresh Stroke Camp is to improve the quality of life for stroke survivors, caregivers, and their families.

Following her husband’s stroke in 2001 when he was 55, Nunley read an article about a camp for stroke survivors with aphasia. “After reading that story, I knew I was meant to pursue the dream of having a similar camp in my community. My family has had a lifelong love of camping, so planning and executing the camp wasn’t particularly frightening,” said Nunley. With help from countless individuals, the first camp was held in 2004.

Nunley’s success grew into the creation of a non-profit organization and a national network of stroke camps for survivors and caregivers. To date, more than 250 stroke camps have been held in 25 states across the country.

“The goal of the camp is to revitalize the human spirit through laughter, teamwork, and carefree relaxation,” says Josh Onyan, BSN, RN, SCRN, stroke program manager at Upstate University Hospital’s Comprehensive Stroke Center.

Onyan volunteered at a Stroke Camp in Wisconsin in 2017, and he was determined to bring this program to Syracuse. “Since 2017, Upstate’s Stroke Team has been fundraising in anticipation of hosting this camp, and we anticipate sponsoring the 2020 camp,” said Onyan.

Michelle Vallelunga, MS, RN, CNRN, SCRN, stroke program data coordinator at Upstate, also attended the Wisconsin Stroke Camp. Vallelunga says Stroke Camp is healing on another level, “mainly because it brings people together who are walking the same path and having the same challenges of living and coping following a stroke. For survivors, camp is a safe place where they can open up, be silly and laugh.”

Vellelunga says ultimately, campers gain confidence to take steps in their recovery they might not have taken. “It changes stroke survivors—it calms them. For caregivers, it is freedom with support. They can see their loved one in a neutral environment, have a getaway, relax, read a book, and for once not worry about preparing a meal,” said Vellelunga.

For Upstate staff, Stroke Camp is a chance to experience patient recovery outside the hospital and to connect with families in a non-acute phase.

“The experience Josh and I had during the Wisconsin Stroke Camp is still with us two years later—the people, the smiles, the stories, time at the lake, sharing in their lives. It is powerful,” said Vellelunga.

Stroke Camp registration begins Friday, Sept. 6 at 1:30 p.m. and concludes Sunday, Sept. 8 at 1:30 p.m.