Connecting with new friends, engaging in new activities, and learning new skills are all at the heart of the Easter Seals camp experience. Over the past three summers, Sam has had the opportunity to try out all forms of camp offered by Easter Seals Ontario. In 2018, he first attended Camp Woodeden for Family Camp with his mom and sister. Having enjoyed his first taste of camp, Sam returned in 2019, this time on his own for five days of overnight camp. Five days obviously was not long enough, as Sam signed up for a ten-day session in 2020.
The pandemic threw a wrench in his plans but did not stop Sam from joining hundreds of his peers for Camp E-aster Seals Virtual Camp instead. Even better than ten days, Sam got to spend seven whole weeks connecting with camp and engaging with his peers online! And when the summer ended, camp continued! Whether through monthly virtual campfires or the Winter Break Camp, Sam has been able to participate in camp programming year-round from home. As his mom, Melinda, says, “[Easter Seals] has provided Sam with a camp experience he will never forget, whether it was in-person or … virtually.”
At the end of the summer, campers were asked to decorate a small wooden tile to represent their camp experience. These tiles will be combined to create a mosaic, commemorating Summer 2020 for all the campers, staff, families, and supporters who shared in such a unique experience of camp. Sam painted a campfire on his tile, which beautifully represents the way in which campers come together, nightly at camp or weekly during virtual camp, to celebrate, share, and enjoy each other’s company.
One of the new improvements to Easter Seals’ virtual campfires during the off-season has been the addition of American Sign Language interpretation. This along with closed-captioning helps to further enhance the experience for all campers. The most recent campfire included some elements of teaching ASL signs to all participants, and Melinda shared Sam’s excitement following this event: “Sam’s first language is ASL, so you can imagine his joy in watching a campfire dedicated to teaching everyone some signs! Yay! In addition, there were some familiar faces from Sam’s time at camp, so it was a win-win all the way around!”
Sam’s painted tile was accompanied by the words of his mom, who beautifully captures the impact of Easter Seals camps on campers and their families: “Within the camp community, Sam was finally able to find his people. He shared experiences, laughter, and found growth and enrichment in all areas. The level of inclusion and acceptance is second to none and as a parent, I can tell you that watching your child exude pure joy and excitement in anticipation of any and all activities is truly priceless.”
Campers like Sam make the camp community was it is, and they are the reason Easter Seals Ontario is committed to providing camp programming, both in-person and remotely. It is through the generous support of donors, that the experiences, growth and enrichment Melinda refers to are made possible.