Mary Silvia, Associate Director of Global Partnerships and Programs, certainly didn’t
see where her career would take her when she started as a Newman’s Own Foundation Fellow in 2011. Her fellowship placement led her to SeriousFun Children’s Network and she has been helping spread the magic of camp ever since.
Mary isn’t just making camp happen in low-resource areas, she is helping ensure its sustainability and creating stronger support systems for children and caregivers. Here, she shares how.
What does the Associate Director of Global Partnerships and Programs do?
I support all elements of our global partnerships and programs with a focus on operations. We review funding proposals, draft partnership agreements, and collect statistical data. Each year, I also manage recruitment, selection, and on-boarding for 20–30 field consultants who work on the ground alongside our partners to bring camp to life. I love getting to know this diverse team of consultants and partners, for whom I act as a liaison, resource, and mentor. Through training webinars, regional conferences, and peer exchange opportunities, we continuously strengthen the expertise of SeriousFun and partners.
With SeriousFun’s partner YRGCARE, I manage the India Partnership Initiative in addition to supporting Camp Rainbow. Our goal is to raise awareness of camp and increase support and opportunities across India.
Mary (center) on a recent visit to the Camp Rainbow Leadership Team in Chennai, India
What do you think makes these programs so special?
SeriousFun’s partners and the camp leadership teams make these programs special. These
people are child advocates, social workers, youth development professionals, nurses, and doctors. They care so deeply about helping children dream beyond their illness and focus on their strengths to envision a future for themselves. Camp is like a mosaic. Each partner fulfills a different need. They leverage their knowledge of campers, connections to the community, past experience, medical expertise, and behavioral support techniques—together creating something unique and beautiful.
Mary (center) facilitates a game with staff at Camp Hope in Gaborone, Botswana
What kind of impact do you see these programs having on children living with HIV around the world?
There are so many levels of impact. One of the most extraordinary examples I have seen is the ability for campers to make social connections—with their peers, caring adults, and their healthcare providers.
Another truly visible impact is the children’s medical adherence and their understanding of
the condition they live with. One of the activities at camp is Life Skills, which focuses on topics such as nutrition, dental hygiene, coping with stigma, and knowing your rights. The Life Skills activity creates a safe space for campers to ask questions about their condition, what it means for their future, and how they can manage the challenges that come with it.
At breakfast and dinner, campers take their medications together as a group and celebrate it with a cheer—reminding each other that taking their antiretroviral treatment is worth celebrating because it keeps their immune systems strong and their bodies healthy. Clarifying what is fact and fiction about HIV is significant for these campers, who may not receive accurate information due to the challenges that come with disclosure and access to HIV education. Leaving camp informed, valued, and cared for may very well have the deepest impact of all.
Mary (second from right) and the Camp Colors of Love team pose for a photo in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Can you tell us about a time that you were inspired by the program's impact?
In Cambodia, Camp Lotus is run in partnership with New Hope for Cambodian Children. Camp Lotus is located at The Village, a home for nearly 300 children living with HIV who have been orphaned or whose parents cannot provide the care and support they need. When Camp Lotus began in 2009, many of the campers and Leaders in Training (LIT) lived at The Village together. Over the years, they have grown up through camp and moved from camper to LIT and from LIT to camp leadership.
Today, the first LITs have gone on to become professionals in fields such as hospitality and computer technology. Many of them still find time to come back to Camp Lotus because it remains such a significant part of their life. Camp role models gave them hope to dream and then guided them to realize their dreams—and now they are doing the same for others.