Camp is for everyone
Paddling down a river or lake, portaging through the woods, finding a great spot and setting up camp with a group of one’s summer camp peers is the type of experience that kids never forget.
But more than simply making amazing memories and lifelong friendships, summer camp – especially sleepover camp – builds strong individuals with great character.
Unfortunately, not every family can afford the costs of overnight camp or high-end day camps, which leaves a large portion of Muskoka’s children out of the fold.
This is where the Children’s Foundation of Muskoka Toni Lynn Rizzuto Campership Fund can help. The fund was established three years by the Rizzuto family in honour of its namesake, who was a long-time friend and supporter of the foundation.
“In the first summer we sent 95 kids to camp,” says Dave Lyons, executive director of the Children’s Foundation of Muskoka. “The Rizzuto family continue to host a golf tournament at Muskoka Bay and the funds from that tournament are used to support the campership fund to send kids to camp.”
The Campership Fund saw 60 percent of the kids they helped go to day camps, with the other 40 percent attending overnight (or residential) camps during the first summer of the program.
“Last summer, obviously COVID cramped our style, but we still managed to send 40 kids to day camp,” explains Lyons. “This year with camps setting up and being able to work with better protocols, we’re hoping to send 100 kids to camp.”
A summer camp allows the kids to connect with fellow campers, and councillors, and develop relationships that can be incredibly meaningful. They can connect with the natural world in ways that aren’t available in other settings.
“It’s quite unique in a kids’ development, they can have a growth experience and a life experience that they can’t have in any other situation,” says Lyons. “It’s different from school, it’s different from a family vacation.”
Lyons says there is a misconception that just because kids live in Muskoka, they’re getting the full natural experience that these summer camps provide. He says that most kids who attend the “out-of-town” camps (or privately operated camps) are from outside of the area.
Lyons says while many Muskoka kids may go to different types of day camps offered by the communities they live in, there is something special about being at a sleepover camp setting.
“A summer camp is where you will see a kid paddling a canoe, setting up a tent, doing an activity in the forest that is a great teambuilding exercise,” he says. “You can’t take for granted that a kid growing up in town is going to have this experience.”
It’s a matter of access says Lyons. It could be a matter of economic or social barriers that prevent families from sending their kids to camp.
Those who may apply for the Summer Camp Fund program are full-time Muskoka residence with an annual household income below $60,000 and are a full-time resident of Muskoka.
“There are some significant poverty issues in our towns,” says Lyons. “One in six kids is living in poverty. Some family incomes are based on seasonal employment, which means unemployment is coming, and you don’t have extra funds for these types of activities.”
The Campership Fund tries to help on the economic side as much as possible and provide kids the opportunity to enjoy the powerful experience and developmental growth that summer camp provides.
Studies are beginning to show that summer camps of these nature help boost self-esteem, social skills, motor skills and overall development in children.
Lyons says they are also hoping to find some more donors and sponsors from the community – be it the business world or just private citizens wanting to help. The more funds that are donated on a consistent basis will provide sustainability to the program.
“We just can’t assume that because we live in Muskoka every kid is going to be out in the forest, paddling canoes and have these amazing natural world adventures,” explains Lyons. “We’re going to keep plugging away and doing our best to find the kids that need us.”
By Chris Occhiuzzi, for HuntersBayRadio.com
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