Return to camps rekindles summer joy

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Kim Scherger is one happy camper.

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Kim Scherger is one happy camper.

She and her staff at the Manitoba Camping Association have sent nearly 375 kids to summer camp this year through the Sunshine Fund. With roughly one month left in the season, they hope to fund another 25.

“We didn’t know for sure how our camps were going to come through it,” the MCA executive director said. “It’s definitely been a relief for our association to see camps running again (amid the COVID-19 pandemic).”

ETHAN CAIRNS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Dana Moroz, Kim Scherger and Sydney Winzinowich (from left) are overjoyed having been able to send 375 kids to camp this summer thanks to the Sunshine Fund.

The Sunshine Fund is an MCA initiative that subsidizes the cost of summer camps for children and families with financial barriers.

For more than four decades, the MCA and Free Press have collaborated to maintain and promote the fund, which relies heavily on donor support. During that time, the joint efforts have sent upwards of 22,000 children to camp.

The MCA accredits 36 camps for Sunshine Fund support. During the past two years, all but a few of them were closed due to concerns around COVID-19.

In 2020, only 125 families accessed the fund, a steep drop from the pre-pandemic numbers, which totalled nearly 650, Scherger said.

Seeing the numbers triple this year has filled her with relief and gratitude, Scherger said, adding she has already visited 12 of the overnight camps to witness the return for herself.

“In a general, overall, the camps are doing well,” she said. “It was powerful watching camp happen again… and to see (children) running around at camp, participating in activities, learning (and) rekindling the friendships.”

While the number of campers is back on the rise, summer camps across the province are not without challenges.

Some have struggled to find trained staff, while others have an abundance of staff and need more campers to fill their bunks.

Also, campers and staff alike have been suffering from feelings of homesickness, Scherger said.

“That’s attributed to COVID. It’s another side-effect,” she said. “We’ve all been locked down and in our homes, not visiting other people.”

To battle the leftover symptoms of prolonged isolation, some parents have been conditioning their childrenby sending them for sleepovers with friends and family before they go camping, Scherger said.

This year to date, the Sunshine Fund has covered $142,000 in registration fees.

Donors who support the fund are making a significant and positive impact on children’s lives, Scherger said.

“It’s so much more than just running around and playing,” she said. “Camp helps turn people into better leaders and better people.”

The Sunshine Fund is still accepting donations, and some camps still have room for campers this season.

tyler.searle@freepress.mb.ca

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