There is a secret place not many Winnipeggers may be aware of, tucked away off Highway 1 less than half a kilometre west of the Perimeter.
It's 28 sprawling acres of natural beauty nestle around a cosy bend of the Assiniboine River. The most striking feature is a chorus of children's laughter that permeates every acre of forest land, seemingly dancing between the trees. It is called Camp Manitou.
"I grew up in the Crestview area," recounts Debbie Hirsch, a volunteer at Camp Manitou, "and I remember the first time I drove up to Camp Manitou, I just had goose bumps. I turned to my husband and said, 'This is the best-kept secret in town.' "
What is even more awe-inspiring than the bountiful greenery is the passion of Camp Manitou's staff and volunteers. During the summer, the camp works exclusively with youth-focused non-profit organizations such as West Broadway Youth Outreach and the Boys and Girls Club, to name two, to encourage children and youth from community programs and inner-city schools to come to the camp.
Camp Manitou staff and volunteers are dedicated to providing a meaningful camp experience for at-risk children and youth who may not have had the opportunity or financial resources to attend a summer camp. There is canoeing, swimming, mountain-bike riding, archery, field games, orienteering, ziplining, team-building and crafts.
For Hirsch, volunteering at Camp Manitou during the past five years is a family affair. Her husband is the president of the camp's board of directors, and her twin 11-year-old boys decided on their last birthday that instead of presents, they wanted party guests to donate money to Camp Manitou. They raised almost $900.
She becomes teary-eyed when she thinks what volunteering at the camp means to her.
"I get so emotional," she says. "I look at these little kids, and being out here, it just changes their lives.
"You sometimes see a child who, at the start of the week, may be a little shy or withdrawn, and at the end of the week, they've bonded with others and are exclaiming that they want to be a leader," Hirsch says with a smile.
"The thing is, every child deserves to go to summer camp."
Throughout the year, Hirsch feverishly works on fundraising endeavours for the camp, including co-chairing the organizing committee for the gala on Oct. 26.
The camp, which is wheelchair-accessible, provides the full experience -- including special programming, activities and nutritious meals to children and youth during the weekdays.
"Volunteers like Debbie are the lifeblood of our organization," says Michelle Harrison, executive director at Camp Manitou. "They are always willing to step up anywhere they're needed and very much are what keeps the organization running."
Hirsch is excited about the upcoming Colour Me Rad event, a 5-K race where runners are bombarded with coloured dye. It runs July 20 and 21, and part of the registration fees will go to Camp Manitou. She says the camp is still looking for volunteers to help out during those two days. For those interested in getting involved, contact Kate Armstrong at email@example.com. To become involved or donate to Camp Manitou, visit http://campmanitouadmin.wix.com/camp-manitou.
If you know a special volunteer who strives to make his or her community a better place to live, please contact Carolyn Shimmin-Bazak at firstname.lastname@example.org.