Spreading Sunshine with Tropical Smoothies

By Emma Paulini- 12th Grade, Fox Chapel Area High School

“Eat better. Feel better.” Tropical Smoothie Cafe’s motto could also include, “Help make the lives of others better,” because of their contributions to the lives of childhood cancer patients and their families.

The Tropical Smoothie Team, Co-Founder of Camp Sunshine Anna Gould, and Executive Director Mike Katz celebrate outside.

The Tropical Smoothie Team, Co-Founder of Camp Sunshine Anna Gould, and Executive Director Mike Katz celebrate outside.

In addition to serving tasty, frosty drinks, Tropical Smoothie Cafe, a national franchise company, has partnered with Camp Sunshine for the past ten years. Camp Sunshine is a retreat in Casco, Maine for children with life-threatening illnesses and their families. Year round, families from forty-eight U.S. states and various countries around the world come to this camp with a beautiful campus, home-cooked meals, activity offerings such as canoeing, swimming, arts and crafts, archery, ropes courses, parent discussion groups, and more — all at no expense to participating families.  When Tropical Smoothie Cafe sponsors Camp Sunshine, they provide children and their families the chance to bond and enjoy respite, hope, and joy during a trying time of their lives. A child’s cancer diagnosis affects the whole family, sometimes separating family members for long periods of time during treatment. Camp Sunshine provides families a week together to regroup and recharge in a supportive community while facing tough challenges.

The partnership between Camp and Tropical Smoothie Cafe evolved from “National Flip Flop Day”, a special Tropical Smoothie “fun-raiser”. Every third Friday in June, anyone wearing flip flops when entering a Tropical Smoothie Cafe receives a free smoothie and the opportunity to donate to Camp Sunshine in a summery-fun way. Prior to the partnership, Tropical Smoothie Cafe CEO Mike Rotondo decided he wanted to make the day about something even bigger, and searched for an organization to which his company could reach out. Camp Sunshine was the perfect match because of its dedication to bringing joy and peace to the lives of others, a priority which also aligns with Tropical Smoothie’s core values.

Tropical Smoothie Cafe members serving up "Island Green" smoothies.

Tropical Smoothie Cafe members serving up “Island Green” smoothies.

During a special session at Camp Sunshine each summer — Tropical Smoothie Cafe week — Tropical Smoothie Cafe members volunteer alongside the other camp volunteers, a team serves fresh smoothies, and CEO Mike Rotondo reveals the donations raised by Tropical Smoothie Cafe. This year, $910,000 was raised for Camp, and last year topped at one million dollars. Gianna Bottone, 18 years old and a Tropical Smoothie employee, volunteered for the first time this summer at Camp Sunshine. She works as a shift leader at a Tropical Smoothie Cafe in Long Island and raises funds for Camp with extreme passion. Through personally organizing multiple charity events, including a fashion show, casino night, craft fair, and even a masquerade murder mystery evening, her cafe location reached her goal of raising $25,000 to contribute to the national fundraiser for Camp Sunshine. “I enjoy every aspect of it,” Gianna said, after recounting her countless hours spent planning, promoting, decorating, and more. “And I think coming to Camp Sunshine is only going to increase her drive,” Laura Jankowski, owner and area developer of Long Island Tropical Smoothie franchises, remarked.

Campers having fun with a Volunteer. Photo Credit: Carrie Keech

Campers and volunteer enjoying their time on the shuffleboard court. Photo Credit: Carrie Keech

Laura and Walter Jankowski have volunteered at Camp Sunshine for eight years, appreciating the impact of the company’s dedication to Camp beginning at store level and continuing all the way to corporate level. “Volunteering at Camp Sunshine hits home because you get really involved. It’s not for someone else somewhere else; you’re right here, making connections,” Walter reflected.  Each and every volunteer at Camp Sunshine is behind the big-heartedness, in every facet.  “It’s contagious,” he smiled.

Andrew Jessen, owner and area developer of Tropical Smoothie Cafes in southwest Florida, has volunteered at Camp Sunshine for eight years as well, never failing to be amazed at the stories of patients and families. “I’ve developed relationships with families at Camp Sunshine whose strength and determination always inspire others. It’s amazing to see campers still in treatment return each year until they volunteer as survivors themselves,” Andrew remarked. Those from Tropical Smoothie Cafe take time out of their busy schedules to volunteer. “It’s worth it,” Andrew said.

Mike Rotondo presents while campers help spread the smiles.

Mike Rotondo presents while campers help spread the smiles.

Dedication and motivation exude from those at Tropical Smoothie Cafe throughout their week at Camp Sunshine, adding another burst of compassion and happiness to the atmosphere. Thanks to the hard work and generosity of those at Tropical Smoothie Cafe, all lives touched by Camp Sunshine become a little bit sweeter.







Emma-Use This OneEmma Paulini is a senior at Fox Chapel Area High School. She is Editor in Chief of her school’s literary arts magazine, and this is her second summer reporting with Pittsburgh Youth Media. Emma loves to dance ballet, sing, cook, and explore the world.


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