A Dynamic Duo
Meet Volunteer Nurses, Cassie & Greg
Greg Dunkel and Cassie Garretson-Dunkel are husband and wife, but also two extraordinary individuals that share the same love of The Painted Turtle and the magical Camp experience that brings joy and possibility to children with serious illnesses and their families. This dynamic duo, both nurses, Greg at UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital and Cassie at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, have been supporting The Painted Turtle with their time and talents for over 10 years.
Volunteer nurses at The Painted Turtle are vital to ensuring the experience is safe and that campers are supported medically. Nurses also bring joy, fun, and silliness as active participants alongside campers and counselors in Stage Night talent show skits, joining wacky hair day, enjoying a meal with a cabin of campers, or singing songs by the campfire.
The Painted Turtle was gifted two such extraordinary volunteer nurses Cassie and Greg!
Cassie, born and raised in Topeka, Kansas, started her nursing career at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri where she worked on a surgical floor/burn unit. Soon thereafter she met a traveling nurse and was inspired to explore this opportunity. A few months later, she was off to Phoenix, Arizona for her first travel assignment. For the last 14 years, Cassie has been a hematology/oncology nurse in an outpatient ambulatory infusion center at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA).
Greg grew up in a small town in southern Illinois. His first job out of school was in the pediatric ICU at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. After helping a friend move to San Diego, he immediately fell in love with the city and like Cassie, decided to start his traveling nurse career, bringing him to the west coast. For the last 15 years, Greg has been a pediatric nurse liver transplant coordinator at UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital, serving and referring many Painted Turtle campers. Greg also serves on The Painted Turtle’s Medical Advisory Board, helping support Camp staff with all things medical, especially helpful during the pandemic.
How these two met was both a gift to them as they found partners in each other, but it also helped bring them to The Painted Turtle. In 2004, Greg was finishing his first travel nurse assignment at CHLA and getting ready to leave for Phoenix for his next assignment. His roommate at the time invited some travel nurses that he worked with to come over. When they arrived, Greg opened the door and saw Cassie. It was love at first sight.
That same year, Cassie volunteered for a summer session at The Painted Turtle. Not able to come back until many years later, her first experience of Camp lives in her heart always. She shared with Greg what a magical place The Painted Turtle was and that he should experience it firsthand. In the summer of 2009, Cassie and Greg volunteered to check in campers at a local parent drop-off so kids could get on a bus to The Painted Turtle. As Cassie guessed, Greg fell in love with Camp instantly and he hasn’t missed a summer yet!
To me, there is nothing more precious than having a space where everyone is accepted. – Cassie
Cassie and Greg were attracted and inspired by Camp for many reasons, but they both were moved by the idea that a place like The Painted Turtle existed for children with serious illnesses, and it was completely free of charge. Greg and Cassie share, “Just because a child has medical needs, that doesn’t mean they should miss out on the childhood experience of summer camp. And The Painted Turtle is a safe place for children to gain independence, build confidence, and see that their abilities are what make them unique and one of a kind.”
When you place a child with a serious illness in an environment that is inclusive, accessible, and accepting, regardless of medical diagnosis and they can be with peers with similar circumstances, it’s really quite magical and healing to a nurse’s soul. - Greg
They both stay involved year after year because they see first-hand the pure joy and happiness the campers experience. In addition, during family weekends, they see and hear directly from caregivers about how The Painted Turtle has helped them and their child/ren. Volunteer nurses like Cassie and Greg give so much and provide caregivers with the comfort that their children will be safe and taken care of, but volunteer nurses like other volunteers also receive so much in return.
For both Greg and Cassie, volunteering at The Painted Turtle allows them and other nurse volunteers to see how the children they care for in the hospital thrive and interact outside of the hospital. And kids get to see their nurses and docs have fun and be silly too. A reset of sorts…a different kind of healing.
There is no better feeling than camper departure day when you share with parents stories about their camper’s week and you see tears of joys – because their child was able to do something at Camp they would never do anywhere else. – Cassie