A little sunshine goes a long way
That is Stevenson Children’s Camp’s slogan. And that is exactly what the crews got when they showed up for the OCAA Day of Service at the 125-acre Stevenson Children’s Camp on April 27th of this year—sunshine. Not a cloud marred the sky, as trucks rumbled in from Chatham Tree Services, Davey Tree, Lanktree Tree Services, Olympic Tree Care, and of course CLC Tree Services. It was a perfect day to give back to an organization that gives so much to the community in Southwestern Ontario and CLC wouldn’t miss it.
While the OCAA has organized these community-building days for a number of years in the Toronto area, it was only five years ago that a few tree services companies in Southwestern Ontario decided to organize an events for their own communities. There are plenty of nonprofit or charitable organizations here who would otherwise not be able to afford the tree services which come with a Day of Service. So when planning started for this year’s day and ideas went out for an organization to contribute to, Stevenson Children’s Camp was thrilled to be asked to host the event.
Stevenson Children’s Camp is located just outside London, Ontario. It is unique, in that it offers summer camp experiences for children aged 7-10 years, who may not otherwise be able to afford it. While the cost to send children to camp is approximately $365 per child, families are only charged $20, and if that is still inaccessible, the fee can be waived. For families struggling to make ends meet, that is priceless.
A bus picks children up Monday morning of the week they are to attend. For the next five days, those children get to be plain old kids and leave the stresses of their regular lives behind. They don’t have to worry about getting evicted, where their next meal is coming from, or any other problem that shadows their young lives.
Camp Director, Lara Shkilnyk, explains, “They swim, do archery, play on ropes courses, go on nature walks, eat three healthy meals a day, plus plenty of nutritious snacks in between. They participate in cooperative games and take responsibility in camp life to build self-esteem, by taking turning sweeping, collecting garbage, cleaning bathrooms, and are rewarded for a full day’s activities with nightly campfires and story time.”
Sadly these campers have often seen more than their fair share of troubles. Referrals come from CAS, local schools, housing co-ops, the Boys & Girls Club, Big Brothers, Big Sisters, from group homes, foster homes, and other organizations who deal with underprivileged youths. Because of that fact, not only do camp counsellors need standard training in CPR and event planning, but they also receive a week’s worth of instructions on how to deal with some of the emotional, social and psychological issues that will come up over the course of the summer—handling the behavioural issues that stem from abuse, neglect, poverty and more. It can be a huge learning curve for counsellors, who are often not much older than their wards for the week; counsellors are usually 16-25 years old themselves.
The Executive Director, Joe Douglas, stated, “It takes a special kind of person to be a counsellor. It can be emotionally, psychologically and physically draining, but you might be the only person a child trusts. And if an issue comes up with one of your campers, you want to be there for them.”
He knows from experience. Joe has been the Executive Director for 3 years, but has worked his way through the ranks, from kitchen, to counsellor, and going back a few more years, to his own experiences as a camper himself. His experiences at Stevenson helped get him where he is today, so as he watched crews felling dead ash trees in the bush surrounding the camp, you could see his appreciation.
“The kids haven’t been able to use half of the 12 elements in the low-ropes course for the last year, because of the dangerous trees surrounding them,” he remarked as the sound of chainsaws, warning horns, and the crack and thud of dead ash trees falling to the ground surrounded him. As sad as it was to lose the trees, the emerald ash borer had left its mark and nothing could be done about them.
“We’ll have plenty of firewood now though,” he added with a smile.
A loss turned into a win. A heck of a way to think about it, but apparently that sunshine that Stevenson Camp talks about is built into the fibers of everyone who is a part of this incredible place. It made the commemorative white pine that Calvin McCallum and crew planted at the end of the day that much more special.
Thanks again to the many men and women who helped make Southwestern Ontario’s 5th Annual OCAA Day of Service a rousing success.