Monday, May 2, 2011

the power of summer camp

metro has its summer guide in today's paper, including my as-told-to story about david mckeage, founder of camp brigadoon for chronically ill children.  

David McKeage is the founder and executive director of Brigadoon Children’s Camp, an $8 million, year-round facility hosting residential camps for children and youth living with chronic illness. It opens this summer in Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley. McKeage, who had Hodgkin’s disease at age 12, told his story to Jon Tattrie. 

“My first summer camp was with Camp Goodtime. I was 17. It was for children living with cancer or brain tumours.

We had to take a swimming test so you could go to the lake. One of the people that I took my swimming test with wore a wig. He was a young man and didn’t want anyone to see him take his wig off, so we were able to do our swimming test just with the lifeguard. It was just the two of us and one lifeguard and no one was around to see us do that. He took his wig off and did the test and then put it back on.

The next morning when we went to breakfast, all the senior staff boys at the camp had shaved their heads. 
This was in the ‘80s, so shaving your head was not a popular thing – Michael Jordan wasn’t around to make it fashionable! It was a very powerful statement about teenage boys supporting another teenage boy, and it was very organic. No one asked them to do this and no one made a big deal about it. It was a very powerful statement.

I still get goose bumps! That moment really changed my life. It’s the community that exists when you’re at camp. It’s the safety of being who you are and being accepted for who you are. It was a really awesome, temporary community.

The relationship between the camper and the counsellor is very powerful in terms of what the camper teaches the counsellor and what the counsellor can teach the camper. It’s a really cool, mutually beneficial give-and-take.

It stayed with me over the years and was the catalyst for creating Camp Brigadoon. We realized there was a large, unmet need in the Maritimes that Brigadoon could address.

We’re thrilled – it’s been a ten-year project. It’s been an amazing learning experience and I think it’s stimulated the Maritimes at all levels – academic, health-care providers, non-profit groups - to take a look at how we service the pediatric chronic-illness populations and their families and what we can do to improve that.
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