Whether it’s hiring movers to help a family into a new home, hosting a prom for children who can’t attend their own, or buying underwear for a mother who’s spent days at the hospital by her son’s side, no need is too big or small for The Sandbox.
“It’s not glamorous, but day-to-day help and support rarely is,” Executive Director Mara Campolungo said.
Glamour and glory aren’t why Campolungo and co-founder Brian Dulan started The Sandbox – an organization that helps families struggling with childhood cancer and other life-altering illnesses – about seven years ago.
For Campolungo, there were many reasons.
She was running a marketing consulting firm at the time, but wasn’t feeling fulfilled. She was also searching for a way to honor her late brother’s legacy. He was a physician who impacted the lives of hundreds of people.
Campolungo and a group of friends began helping families during Christmas at Levine Children’s Hospital and continued their support after the holidays. In March 2011, a social worker at the hospital asked if they could host a prom for patients who would miss their own due to treatment or the effects of their illness. They agreed and The Sandbox’s signature event, An Evening of Believing Prom, was born.
During the process of organizing the prom, Campolungo realized she wanted to make helping the families, their children and the medical community her new life’s work. She and Dulan founded The Sandbox nine months later and used her marketing skills to come up with the name.
“I’ve always liked the expression, ‘Let’s play in the sandbox,’ because it’s inclusive,” Campolungo said. “I wanted families to say, ‘We want to play in the sandbox,’ because no one really wants to say, ‘I need help.’ If you think back to elementary school, the sandbox is a place of joy.”
Unlike other organizations, Campolungo said The Sandbox is unique because it cares for the entire family, not just the child. The level of assistance is unique to each family and continues even if their child passes away from his or her illness.
The Sandbox’s CARRE program (Caring About Real Relationships Empathetically) is the umbrella to all of the support the organization offers. Over the years, more than 5,000 families in the greater Charlotte region, as well as some parts of South Carolina, have benefited from the various initiatives and events, such as the prom.
Another initiative is the Love Baskets, which are are delivered to families whose child has cancer or a life-altering illness. They are packed with personal hygiene items, household cleaning supplies, non-perishable food items and an encouragement note from their Sandbox family. Alternatively, Love Totes are distributed via hospitals and other groups to families who are not part of the CARRE program. Each bag is filled with snack and travel items to help ease the hospital stay.
The Sandbox also hosts a signature golf tournament and Cereal with CC, an event inspired by a 5-year-old girl named CC who has metachromatic leukodystrophy. The breakfast serves as a fundraiser for the CARRE program.
The Sandbox has accomplished a lot in the last seven years and Campolungo said it’s all due to her strong team of employees, volunteers and board members, as well as the donations from the community.
“I feel really grateful to be able to blend what I love to with my core gifts and talents to be able to help my community and the families in my community,” she said. “It also makes me feel hungry for more. I want to help more families.”
Campolungo’s goal is to eventually travel with The Sandbox to support communities in other states. She also wants the CARRE program to have a broader base of resources to help families on a much larger scale.
As for her advice to other women looking to change their careers and make an impact, Campolungo says start by knowing yourself. As a leader in the marketing industry, she loved to think strategically, tell a story and advocate for others. The Sandbox, she said, was a perfect marriage of all those passions.
“We should always just look at ourselves and really make sure we’re aligning our gifts and our talents and our passions with how we’re living our lives and how were making a living. I’m not saying that’s easy and I’m not saying that comes without challenges,” Campolungo said. “But I think when you truly understand yourself, you’re conscientious of placing yourself in those positions where you can be most impactful.”
Visit www.gotsandbox.org to volunteer or donate.