When Spring Ross sent Katherine to camp for the first time four years ago, she was worried that her shy daughter might struggle to make friends and talk to others.

When Spring Ross sent Katherine to camp for the first time four years ago, she was worried that her shy daughter might struggle to make friends and talk to others.

However, when she came home, Ross saw how much Katherine loved her summer at InterVarsity Pioneer Camp, and was just as excited as her daughter was to send her back one summer later.

The two live in the city, but as she grew up on a reserve, Ross spent her childhood in the outdoors and around nature.

"I had that all year-round for my whole life," she said, but living in Winnipeg, her daughter "doesn’t get to experience that too often, but being at camp gives her some sort of experience."

One week at a time, Ross saw how Katherine was able to gain confidence, independence, responsibility and an awareness of nature.

"Of course, organizations like the Sunshine Fund can help you, because it is costly for a week, and the Sunshine Fund helps us," she said.

"A little bit helps all the time."

Ross is one of the many parents in Manitoba who use the Sunshine Fund to help make their child’s summer memorable.

With the fund’s help, paying camp tuition was more doable, and she was able to keep sending Katherine to Pioneer Camp so she could continue to have fun and develop those skills she learned.

For Sharon Steward, one of the year-round managers at Pioneer Camp, what sets the camp apart from others is its commitment to teaching outdoors and wilderness skills.

"All of these things work towards teaching the kids to be independent thinkers, and working together as teams," she said.

"It’s just a great gift to provide kids to be at camp, especially if there are financial boundaries."

For five days, campers in the same age group are able to develop skills they can apply to real life. They can go on hikes, learn about trees and plants, and even do crafts, drama and sports.

Last summer, Pioneer Camp, typically an overnight camp at Shoal Lake, was closed due to the pandemic, but this year, adhering to public health restrictions, the camp has switched to a day camp in the city.

Despite the challenges the camp had to face, it continues to operate and it plans to resume canoe trips for older campers in August.

Some kids haven’t been able to see their friends since school closures, and among the kids at camp, "there’s so much joy," she said.

Just like the Sunshine Fund, Steward said the team at Pioneer Camp believes all kids should be able to go to camp, and they’ve found even throughout the pandemic, the Sunshine Fund has been able to help them achieve that.

In a typical year, about 10 per cent of their campers receive scholarships from the Sunshine Fund, and even though the camp’s capacity has been reduced to 20 campers per week, that percentage has stayed the same, which, for Steward, is indicative of the need for summer camp regardless of the situation in the world.

For her, the most important part is that "they’re just getting to be kids."

"They’re getting to have some fun and play games and learn all at the same time, and we’re able to facilitate that."

gillian.brown@freepress.mb.ca