This month Camp Winfield has offered hundreds of youth and adults with cognitive and physical disabilities a magical summer camp-out experience in Lake Country.
This past week, 48 children between the ages of six and 18 gathered for a special breakfast sponsored by camp supporter the B.C. Egg Marketing Board to help mark Camp Winfield’s 50th anniversary, one of five different groups who will attend the Easter Seals summer camp on Davidson Road during July.
“It’s always a sad day and pretty emotional when the kids have to go home,” said Mary-Lynn Hanson, corporate and community development manager for Camp Winfield.
“This is a special place for them because all the activities at Camp Winfield are accessible to them, which isn’t the case back home the communities where they come from. Here they can come and participate in all the activities and celebrate their individual abilities.”
Camp Winfield is a BC Lions Society and Easter Seals BC/Yukon initiative, aided by numerous corporate sponsors and volunteer supporters, open to participants from across B.C. and the Yukon, equipped with staff and the equipment to meet the needs of a wide cross-section of cognitive and physical disabilities.
Easter Seals began operating the 19-acre Camp Winfield in 1968 and opened similar camps in Squamish in 1972 and Shawnigan Lake in 1976.
Finley says Camp Winfield hires 23 camp counsellors, many of them university students, to meet the high threshold ratio of staff to campers, along with grounds support maintenance staff.
“The university kids love working here because this is such a beautiful place to be and the opportunity to interact with the kids in such a special setting,” Finley said.
Ryley Erickson, the Camp Winfield program coordinator, is spending his third summer at the Lake Country facility.
For Erickson, studying for his masters degree at the University of Victoria, he says what the campers give back to him is being able to view the world again through a child’s eyes with a sense of wonder.
“We don’t bring enough of that to our own regular lives,” he said.
Erickson, who was born in the Cayman Islands, and had a globe-trotting childhood living in England, India and Bermuda, came to Canada for a post-secondary education, initially attending university in Nova Scotia before coming out west.
In 2015, he was lined up for a summer job as a rowing coach. “That job paid well and got me through the summer but it was not really something I was doing because I enjoyed it,” he recalled.
Erickson was trolling for job opportunities on Craigslist and the first one he came across was a counsellor at Camp Winfield. He decided to apply and following the interview process was offered the job.
He said the high-energy interaction with the young campers can be demanding, but it is important part of helping the campers have an experience they will never forget and often come back to repeat every summer.
Of the 48 kids at camp this past week, only three were newcomers.
“We have to keep in mind that we even though it’s working through many weeks of the summer for us, it’s just one week in our campers’ lives. So we need to keep that energy level up. If the roles were reversed, they would do the same for us,” Erickson said.
Finley said another important by-product of Camp Winfield is the one week respite offered to parent caregivers of kids with special needs, which can often be a 24/7 obligation.
“To be able to send their kids to a camp like this, a safe environment with so many activities accessible for them to take part in, is a huge relief for those parent caregivers,” Finley said.
Those activities include outdoor swimming pool, waterslide, climbing wall, trampolines, giant swing, basketball courts, mini-golf and outdoor amphitheatre where the campers provide the entertainment.
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