EVERY kid deserves a chance to go to camp (and why I support Tim Hortons Camp Day)

Being a typical Canadian, it doesn’t take much convincing for me to stop in at Tim Hortons.  But on Camp Day, I make a special point to grab a double-double for myself and treat some friends, because supporting Tim Horton Camps is important to me.  Here’s why….

Did you go to summer camp? Do you remember how awesome it was?  I went to a sleep-away Brownie camp when I was around 8 or 9 years-old and it was my first taste of independence from my parents. I remember doing crafts with stuff we found in nature and I can still feel the frigid cold of the lake as though it was yesterday. I hated swimming in that lake in the morning.  But despite that, it was an awesome experience that has always stayed with me.

My parents weren’t outdoorsy.  Not at all.  But for some strange reason getting out into the wild has always held a special appeal for me.  Going to that Brownie Camp gave me that first real taste of getting out there.

Later on, when I was a teenager I was a camp counselor for three summers at Bolton Camp. It was a sleep-away camp for disadvantaged kids, run by Family Services Toronto.  To this day, those summers were the best of my life.  We slept in cabins, swam in a frigid, unheated pool, waded in the river and hiked forests and meadows.  I hated swimming in that pool in the morning.  But I loved everything else!

You might think I loved those summers because I was a teenager and being with other teenagers away from our parents all summer was the coolest thing ever (it was).  But there was more to it than that.  I also loved those summers because of the kids.

You see, the children at  Bolton Camp came from inner-city Toronto.  Most of them came from homes where each day was a struggle to make ends meet.  Buying food and clothing was the priority, not going camping.  In fact, if  the camp I worked at wasn’t available, many of the kids would never have the opportunity to enjoy the summer camp experience.

Can you imagine? No creative cloud watching. No campfires. No wading in the river. No giggles at bedtime with new friends, tucked cosy into sleeping bags. No crafts with stuff you find in nature. No swimming in frigid water. No star gazing. No fresh, forest air.  No memories of camp to last you a lifetime.

When the kids stepped off the buses at the start of camp, there were always a bunch who were back for a repeat visit. These were the two weeks they had been waiting for all year.  But there were also a few who had never been to camp. There were a few who had ice cold stares, who were completely indifferent or who had huge chips on their shoulders.  Each and every session, nearly every cliché about disadvantaged kids stepped off that bus to start two-weeks of summer camp. Kids who were dirty.  Kids who were tough.  Kids who were scared.  Kids who were hungry. Kids who had one change of clothes in a plastic grocery bag to last them two weeks.

That camp gave me a hard reality check and important lessons about life.  You see, I grew up in an upper-middle class family.  My childhood summer vacations included horse riding lessons, Disney and visits with family in Europe.   But my three summers as a teenage counselor taught me that camp and nature was a great equalizer.  It didn’t matter how much or how little money any of us had, or what neighbourhood or city we lived in.  All that mattered is that we were “in it” together for two weeks: having fun, learning some new skills, making friends and breathing fresh air.  It taught me that giving kids the opportunity to get outside and play and learn in that kind of environment provides opportunity for ALL youth to gain confidence, drop their defenses and just be kids.  I saw campers (and counselors) grow stronger physically AND emotionally with each day spent filled with activity in the sunshine and starlight.

Often, the kids that stepped off the bus with the worst attitudes were the ones crying the hardest when the boarded the bus to go home.  Not one kid in my three summers at camp ever said they wanted to go home.

I also saw first-hand how that camp made a long-term difference in some of the lives of the kids.  Many of my fellow counselors had also been campers there.  It is where they learned about respect and responsibility and how to care for others.  More than one of my peers at that camp went on to develop leadership careers working with disadvantaged youth.

It has been 30 years since I spent my first summer at Bolton Camp.   I still wonder where the campers are and how things are going in their lives.  I hope that I made a difference for them, because those kids made a difference for me.

Bolton Camp had it’s last campfire and shut the cabin doors permanently in 1999.

Thankfully Tim Horton Camps are operating across Canada to provide kids (and counsellors) just like the ones I knew as a teenager with amazing experiences.You see,  the Tim Horton Camps are for disadvantaged youth, giving kids an opportunity to get outside and experience all the awesomeness of the camp experience.  Fresh air! Creative cloud watching! Campfires! Giggles at bedtime with new friends, tucked cosy into sleeping bags! Crafts with stuff you find in nature! Memories of camp to last a lifetime! An opportunity to grow emotionally and physically in nature.

And THAT is why I support Tim Horton Children’s Foundation and Camp Day.


PS – If you are reading this after Camp Day, you can still help to send a kid to camp by contributing to the Tim Horton Children’s Foundation.  Here’s how: Send A Kid to Camp



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