When Matthew first asked to go to Camp Cedarwood, Trevor Pfahl said he knew his son would have a great time.

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This article was published 15/6/2019 (829 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

When Matthew first asked to go to Camp Cedarwood, Trevor Pfahl said he knew his son would have a great time.

Pfahl, who is from the small town of Hanna, Alta., said going to camp when he was growing up gave him a chance to meet other kids.

"Camp was a positive experience," said Pfahl. "I wanted Matthew to experience that."

Matthew desperately wanted to go. But Pfahl wasn’t sure he would be able to afford to send him.

"I needed to find a way to make it work, because I couldn’t come up with that," he said.

In 2009, Matthew’s mother, Melania Candra, died after a four-year battle with cancer. Pfahl was suddenly on his own to provide for their five-year-old son, and he said there wasn’t much in the budget for extra activities such as camp.

"I was a single dad for several years," he said. "Finances were very tight."

That’s why Pfahl said it was a blessing to find out about the Winnipeg Free Press Sunshine Fund, which provides financial assistance to families who can’t afford to send their kids to camp. The program, in partnership with the Manitoba Camping Association, uses the Statistics Canada low-income cut-off chart to determine if an applicant family qualifies for financial assistance — and provides up to $700 per child, per year.

"Without the Sunshine Fund, it wouldn’t have been possible for Matthew to go be in a positive environment and just grow and learn and play as a kid should," said Pfahl.

Applications for the Sunshine Fund are reviewed on a first-come, first-served basis, and the number of children who get to go to camp through the fund is dependent on donations and grants. So far, the fund has raised enough money to send 427 kids to camp — still shy of this year’s goal of 650.

Since Matthew, now 14, first went to Camp Cedarwood three years ago, Pfahl said he’s seen his son flourish. Camp gives him a chance to try new activities he otherwise wouldn’t get the chance to do, such as wakeboarding, and to make new friends he otherwise wouldn’t have met.

"I’ve watched him become more social, become more confident in himself," said Pfahl. "For me, it’s having him in a positive environment outside of the normal routine and just being able to enjoy new experiences."

Pfahl said his son keeps in touch with his camp friends on social media, and can’t wait to see them again in a few months.

"Now with technology, he starts chatting on Instagram (to see) which friends are going, what week are you going," Pfahl said. "It does add an element of something for him to look forward to every summer, (and it) gives him a chance to reunite and rekindle those friendships."

Pfahl said his family plans their summer around Camp Cedarwood — and thanks to the Sunshine Fund, doesn’t have to worry about whether Matthew will be able to go.