Traditional summer programming doesn’t work for 12-year-old Isaac.
Even with an aide, summer camps are limiting for the Oak Bay youngster, financially and behaviourally.
“He has lots of stuff going on,” says mom Jennifer (last name withheld at the family’s request).
Staff at Queen Alexandra Summer Camps understand the issues, and the youngster himself.
Isaac’s complex, invisible challenges include post traumatic stress disorder, sensory processing problems and severe learning disabilities.
That means he doesn’t fit in traditional funding boxes, making it tough for a for a mom living on a fixed, low income to afford a luxury such as summer camp.
“QA summer camp is the one thing they look forward to in the summer. This is their version of a wonderful summer experience,” Jennifer said. “I wouldn’t be able to do it by myself and I wouldn’t want to take that [away] from them.”
Children’s Health Foundation of Vancouver Island, located on-site at the Queen Alexandra Centre for Children’s Health, funds programs for children with disabilities and health challenges around the Island. To date the foundation has donated more than $749,000 to the camp where grants are used specifically for camp leader salaries, transportation and camp supplies.
At ‘QA’ as it’s affectionately shortened, he has some form of continuity, Jennifer said.
Camp leader Lucas Dellabough has been at the camp for more than five years, first as a volunteer, and now as a staff member. That creates a lasting relationship with Isaac, one he may have relied on this year when he attended camp for the first time without his big sister at his side.
“Isaac and Annalise being in camp here is wonderful. The staff are so well trained, they understand the children’s disabilities,” Jennifer said. “There’s consistency in the staff. They’ve been a blessing.”
Camp leaders receive a month of training each June provided by Island Health professionals as well as staff from the University of Victoria, Pacific Institute for Sport Excellence, Power to Be, Community Options for Families and behaviour consultants.
Isaac and Annalise attended camps together for years. It was always a safe environment where they could explore summer activities at a skill-appropriate rate. This year, Isaac came alone – a huge milestone in his social development, said team leader Taryn Gmitroski.
“For him to be willing to come without her was a big thing,” Gmitroski said. “He came and was keen and instantly bonded with the ‘guy group.’ He’s formed a lot of different bonds with different groups.”
Isaac professes to favour pizza making, water play – last week he was the instigator of a cardboard jump in the middle of the slip ‘n’ slide – dam building, and the adapted bicycles.
“He can’t ride a bike,” mom stage whispered so Isaac won’t hear.
But he can at QA Summer Camp. The bikes are sized for larger kids but adapted – for example with three wheels for balance, a large flat back deck for scooter mode, hand pedals or tandem seats.
“Every kid loves to ride. it’s a right of passage. It’s liberating and important,” Jennifer said.
Campers also love the bike rodeo, just one activity alongside outings to places like PISE or to mini golf, swim or kayak.
The Children’s Health Foundation of Vancouver Island hopes to raise $55,000 this year for QA summer camps.Visit childrenshealthvi.org to learn how to help.