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Put your hand up if you have in the far reaches of your mind, happy childhood memories of summer camp.

Think about it. Close your eyes and think waaay back. Maybe it was boy scout camp, sailing camp or even a day program with the local YMCA.

For me it was Camp Sherbrooke in rural Nova Scotia. It still exists. I Googled it. Years later (I won’t say how many) I can still remember clearly the homey smell of wood smoke and Rice Krispies when we convened for breakfast in the main lodge.

I also remember being terrified at the prospect of leaving my home and family for a week, to spend miles away with strangers. Predictably, any home sickness was short lived as we dove into seven days of non-stop fun: swimming, arts and crafts, camp fires, silly skits and new friends that we couldn’t bear to leave when it was time to go home.

That’s the thing about camp, it’s a bit of a rite of passage for most kids. Your first time away from home, new places, new people and new experiences. It gives you the chance to spread your wings and test your independence. You will learn skills beyond building a Popsicle stick bird house, and you will emerge a new person.

Camp is all about building confidence and self-esteem. Learning new skills that you will take with you through life and into adulthood — social skills, teamwork and leadership abilities. Camp is a place where you will conquer fears and grow into the person you were meant to be. Best of all, camp is fun and all kids should have fun.

Here in the Niagara community, there are many children who could benefit from a summer camp experience, but for whom it is simply out of reach. Due to finances or family circumstances, camp just does not make it onto the priority list for struggling families.

At Family and Children’s Services Niagara, summer camp has been one of the more creative ways we reach out to our families in the community. Each year, in partnership with the YMCA, Niagara Community Foundation, our many donors and supporters, we are able to provide a summer camp experience to nearly 500 local kids in need.

Thanks to those generous donations, kids will have a chance to break away from their troubles, to have some fun in the sun, to learn and to grow and to just be a kid. Their families and caregivers will receive some much needed support and respite, and everyone will be refreshed and recharged, better able to tackle any challenges ahead.

For me, camp is the great equalizer. When kids return to school in September, the inevitable question is “what did you do this summer?”

How great is it that these kids will be able to talk about their summer camp adventures, swap stories and brag a bit — just like everyone else.

As we leave the chilly days of winter behind and stumble toward spring and summer, at FACS we are gearing up for Summer Smiles, our campaign that supports our camp program. There is no lack of creativity as staff and community come together to help send kids to camp.

St. Patrick’s Day saw a Casual Friday for which more than $100 was raised for Summer Smiles. There are bake sales and pancake breakfasts in the offing. A local school is donating 80 backpacks for our campers, and a trivia night is planned. We recently received news of a $6,000 donation to our camp program — that will send nearly 24 kids to camp.

So as we all look forward to sunnier days ahead, think about how you might help a local child in need experience the simple joy of summer camp. You could be helping to make memories that last a lifetime and help set that little camper on the road to becoming the best that they can be.

— Ann Godfrey is the director of communications and fundraising with Family and Children’s Services Niagara, and a Rotarian.

Source: St. Catharines Standard