Making Memories That Last a Lifetime

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© Photo Courtesy of  Easter Seals BCY

Many people have fond memories of summer camp—sailing on the lake, singing campfire songs, pranking counsellors, and forging lasting friendships.

Now, imagine a child who can’t attend summer camp because of a disability, missing out on life-changing experiences and friendships.

“We thought our son would never have a camp experience, something that is so important for any child growing up,” says Barb, mother of 19-year-old Dillon, who has Down Syndrome. “That is, until he went to Easter Seals summer camp when he was nine years old.”

For Dillon and his family, summer camp opened up a new world. “Easter Seals camps are fully inclusive and accessible so any child or adult with a disability can attend,” explains Barb. “It’s such a fun, safe environment, and Dillon absolutely loves it. He’s been going for 10 years.”

With three locations across B.C., Easter Seals BC Yukon offers week-long, overnight summer camp programs for campers ages six to 49 with a disability. Disabilities vary from autism, development delays, anxiety disorders, Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, epilepsy, ADHD, among others.

Campers participate in a variety of outdoor sports designed for individuals with disabilities, including wheelchair sports and leadership training. There are also talent shows, swimming, campfires, arts, crafts—every activity you would see at any summer camp.

“My favourite part of camp is making the tie-dye shirts, getting goo’d, dressing up and being silly, making new friends, and going out at night for pool parties,” says Dillon.

Easter Seals camps have a three-to-one camper-to-staff ratio, a 24-hour medical team on-site, and camp counsellors trained specifically to work with persons with disabilities. For campers like Charlotte, this type of care is so important.

Charlotte has a medical condition that requires her to lay horizontally at all times, but that doesn’t stop Easter Seals camp from giving her the best experience they can. Staff push her in a portable bed around camp so that she can participate in camp activities. During pool time, lifeguards create a makeshift raft for her to lay on and adapt a life jacket to keep her tube dry.

Easter Seals BC Yukon
© Photo Courtesy of  Easter Seals BCY

“At camp, they don’t hear the word no, which is what they hear a lot of when navigating the world around them. Here they can try any activity because it’s set up to be fully accessible and the staff are trained to work with all abilities and needs,” explains Barb. “And if a camper is nervous to try something, there is such a supportive environment to make them feel safe.”

For parents of a child with a disability, caregiving can be 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and very emotionally and physically demanding.

“Sending a child to camp is also a chance to give parents a time to refresh and recharge,” explains Barb. “It was scary the first time he was away from home and by the time our nerves settled down, it was time to pick him up. But I’m so glad we did it because as important it is for Dillon, it became just as important for our whole family.”

Dillon has also expanded his camp experience with Easter Seals into the winter months and is taking online programs in music and art, plus a 12-week program on transitioning to adulthood.

When public-health guidelines over COVID-19 shut down overnight camps in 2020, Easter Seals quickly pivoted and created a [email protected] program with online classes and virtual day camps.

“We saw how the pandemic was isolating, especially for people with disabilities, and wanted to offer them a place where they could safely connect, laugh, and play,” explains Dale Kilgour, assistant camp director of camp programs and facilities for Easter Seals BC/Yukon.

Just like in-person camp, [email protected] fosters self-esteem, friendships, and adventure. Close to 80 percent of those who have attended virtual programming reported improved independence, confidence, and personal development skills.

“When a person with a disability feels safe and secure, they feel free to explore their interests, to play and to laugh,” explains Dale. “Easter Seals camps gives them a chance to express themselves and learn more about who they are in a positive way.”

© Photo Courtesy of  Easter Seals BCY
© Photo Courtesy of  Easter Seals BCY

Online programs have exceeded the charity’s expectations. “It’s allowed us to connect with first-time attendees who would not have normally been able to make the journey to the physical camp due to their personal circumstances. It’s become a life line for so many.”

This year, Easter Seals celebrates 75 years of helping children and adults with disabilities live their best lives. What started as a simple transportation service for children with disabilities by the Vancouver East Lions Club in 1947, has evolved to meet the changing needs of communities today, including a 49-suite house for medical accommodation in Vancouver.

You can help Easter Seals make lives better for another 75 years with a donation at www.eastersealsbcy.ca

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Easter Seals BC & Yukon, founded by the East Vancouver Lions Club in 1947, is a trusted and established charity leader. Creating opportunities and tools to help children and adults with disabilities address life’s challenges while building self-esteem, self-confidence and independence. And providing the comforts of home for those traveling to Vancouver for medical appointments and treatments.

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