Zack Pomerleau was diagnosed with a brain tumor when he was 8 years old, and had two surgeries within a year.

As he dealt with his illness, he got lots of care and attention, including stays at Camp Sunshine in Casco, which provides retreats for children with life-threatening illnesses and their families at no cost.

Partly because of all that he has been through, Pomerleau is considering studying nursing to help people the way he has been helped. But at the age of 17, he also loves music, and is considering music school as well.

Right now, he’s more proficient in music than he is in medicine, playing harmonica and singing. So it makes sense, for now at least, that he has chosen to make a difference with the latter.

On Saturday, the Zack Pomerleau Blues Band will play a set at the Camp Sunshine Pumpkin Festival at L.L. Bean in Freeport. The festival is an annual fundraiser for Camp Sunshine, and is known for its giant display of thousands of lit pumpkins.

“When my family and I were (at Camp Sunshine), I was able to make friends and connections with people my own age, and my family and I were able to remove ourselves from the issue (the illness) for a while,” said Pomerleau, a senior at Edward Little High School in Auburn.

“I was so young at the time, I didn’t realize the importance of it. But I know to my parents, it was a very important thing.”

Pomerleau said he experienced motion sickness, migraines and other symptoms for most of his young life before the brain tumor was found. Since the second surgery, those symptoms have been alleviated.

Pomerleau and his band, a blues-rock outfit, have played at schools and clubs in the area, so they’ve got a professional resume.

For the pumpkin festival organizers, having a former camper be part of the entertainment sends a message of hope to all of the camp’s families.

“It’s great to see kids (who went to Camp Sunshine) going on despite illness and doing something they enjoy,” said Matthew Hoidal, executive director of Camp Sunshine. “Zack is very talented, and he and his band are great.”

The pumpkin festival raises money for Camp Sunshine through sponsorships — Hancock Lumber and Androscoggin Bank are major sponsors this year — donations, contest fees, and T-shirt and food sales.

The festival is also a major way for Camp Sunshine to attract regional, and even national, attention.

The festival has been held at various locations in Maine. Last year it was in Monument Square in Portland. When camp officials approached L.L. Bean about hosting this year, the company “thought it would be a great way to support such a special organization,” said Greg Tucker, retail promotions developer for L.L. Bean.

Every year, the festival collects and displays lit jack-o’-lanterns in an attempt to break the Guinness Book of World Records for lit pumpkins — more than 30,000.

The record is held by Camp Sunshine, set at an event in Boston in 2006, so Hoidal says there is no sense of urgency to break it this year.

“For us, this is really about making people aware of the camp and of all the families we can serve.”

 

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

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