Trust me, I never thought I'd be employed at the Winnipeg Free Press writing about the perks of sleeping in bunk beds or using an outhouse all summer.
As a journalism intern, I've been writing weekly articles for the Sunshine Fund, a Free Press campaign to raise donations and send children to summer camp. It's an assignment I can do with sincere passion because camp is in my blood.
As a child, I was a regular camper, and a camp counsellor a few years later. Every summer, I met dozens of enthusiastic kids from the Sunshine Fund who shared my passion for bunk beds and outhouses but relied solely on donations to get there.
I remember my first day as a camper at Camp Arnes. I hated frogs, mosquitoes and the texture of sleeping bags. My mom dressed me up in a cute little layer of bug spray. I packed everything from 18 bathing suits to 10 of my favourite Beanie Babies. I remember the loud screams of friends reuniting from the year before, and how nervous I was lugging my suitcase into a cabin with seven girls I had never met.
I remember cabin sneak-outs to the dining hall to feast on chocolate sundaes in the kitchen. I remember meeting my two best friends while sitting on a couple of bunk beds inside a smelly old cabin, and working alongside them as counsellors years later. I remember feeling like I was at an SSRqN Sync concert whenever the staff played music at night. I remember feeling so special when my counsellor would French-braid my hair in our cabin.
I also remember what it was like to return home at the end of the week. I would hide from my mom and dad in a crowd of people when they came to pick me up. I hoped my parents would simply forget about me and I'd be forced to stay an extra week. The second I got home, I would count down the months until my next week at camp. I told everyone I wanted to be the camp director when I grew up so I'd be at camp 365 days out of the year.
When I became a camp counsellor at Camp Arnes, I learned your heart turns into a bit of a punching bag.
It takes a hit when a camper asks to be tucked into bed at night because they don't have a mom to do it anymore.
It takes a jab when you share your box of Smarties with a camper every day because they don't have enough money for snack.
It takes a kick when a camper hugs you goodbye and tells you they don't want to go back to real life because there are bullies at school.
It takes a head-butt when you put them on a bus to go home, knowing they have to play grown-up for the next 11 months because Mom is working all day and Dad isn't around.
It takes another beating when you hear their stories. One little girl from the Sunshine Fund loved hugs, horseback riding, and talking over Gobstoppers and Caramel Apple Pops. But most importantly, she loved to run around camp. We ran to the dining hall, we ran during the games, we ran to the lake, we ran around in a cabin the size of a Polly Pocket house. Throughout the week, I found out why we ran so much. Her mom couldn't run with her. She was paralyzed in a wheelchair and couldn't afford to send her daughters to camp. The little girl told me she hoped her mom would be able to run again with her someday.
As a counsellor, my campers from the Sunshine Fund always reminded me of the importance of summer camp. This summer, they're reminding me again.
It's one week where they're allowed to stay up past their bedtime. One week where it's OK to roll around in the mud. One week where they can eat dinner with their fingers. One week where screaming and loud cheering is very much encouraged. One week where they can challenge themselves to ride a horse for the very first time, or conquer their fear of heights by swinging off the zip line. One week where they can escape the challenges of reality and feel at home. One week where someone will braid their hair.
Please raid your piggy banks, check under your couches, or pull the lint out of your jean pockets and donate to the Sunshine Fund.
You'll help a kid experience one unforgettable week when it's OK to be a kid.