By Jennifer Hoegg
Over the course of one year, Brigadoon Village has grown from a hardhat zone to a friendly, comfortable summer camp.
The facility for children and youth with chronic illnesses, located on the shore of a quiet cove on Aylesford Lake, opened late in the summer of 2011 and launched its first full season this year.
“We’re very excited,” executive director and founder Dave McKeage said. “The diversity for our first summer exceeds expectations. Now we need to focus on putting heads on beds.”
More than a dozen camps are lined up for the summer - all but two brand new to the Maritimes - but organizers are still trying to get the word out that there is space available.
“We have the number of groups we hoped for, but not the volume,” director of programs Jen Kelday said.
Brigadoon is already a busy spot for the 26 full-time and summer staff: with school groups, corporate retreats and weekend camps filling the spring calendar, along with preparation for summer programming.
The first camp, which started July 1 for blind or visually-impaired kids, was full.
“We had (camp representatives) do a walk through,” Kelday added. “Our site was built to be accessible, bur we’re learning access means so much more than wheelchairs.”
From clearing clutter to painting contrasting colours on steps, the changes will help the new camp be a safe place for even more youth. Other camps require additions to the camp’s wish list, like a defibrillator, which St. Johns’ Ambulance recently donated.
Camps are still being penciled into the summer calendar.
“We just got financing for a bereavement camp, kind of a last minute,” Kelday said. The camp is aimed at adolescents suffering a loss.
“That one is harder to get the word out about,” she said.
She is particularly excited about a brand new “open family camp” set for July 27 to 29.
“We recognize there are some kids who may never be able to come to camp without a family member to support them,” Kelday said. The camp helps include children with complicated or rare diseases, for younger campers or even people in their 20s who may have cognitive disabilities.
“Our ideal model would be six days, five nights,” she said. “So we get in that bubble, that mind set away from outside world. It’s a richer experience.”
However, even with donations and help, camps are expensive to run – especially those requiring medical support – and all groups have been able to finance week-long camps and a number are kicking off with weekend and three-day camps.
Weekends do work well for family camps, like Brain Child, which welcomes families of children with brain tumours.
For the offseason, weekends will always be reserved for family and youth camps – 10 are booked in the fall - but space is open for corporate and private bookings from Monday to Thursday.
“It helps with our revenue stream,” Kelday said. “And (renters) feel good about it. It’s outside the box and they are helping a non-profit.”
Helping hands are a key part of the Brigadoon story. Throughout the project, volunteers have generously given time and money to the camp and site improvements reflect it. A wheelchair accessible playground donated by the IWK Auxiliary is now in place, including a gazebo and a small stage. Handmade quilts and pillowcases brighten the beds. Landscaping and gardening is slowly being done.
“We had a number of different gardening clubs come in,” Kelday said. “And we had some topsoil donated.”
A garden is part of the Brigadoon plan to incorporate a healthy foods program into its camps, Kelday said, which may include partnering with Acadia’s nutrition and dietetics students. Empowering youth with special dietary needs to be able to cook for themselves is also part of the plan. She points out the camp’s chef is already inspiring campers to embrace new tastes.
“We had one kid say to the chef ‘I’ve never even had broccoli before, but the way you cook it, I love it’.”
Many of those helping hands are being recognized in a coffee table book of the Brigadoon story, which was launched June 28. The project includes a number of familiar local faces, like New Minas Rotarian Adam Smith, AVR/Magic, Acadia University and Annapolis Valley Health’s Janet Knox. Brigadoon staff and board members are also featured.
“It’s a pretty special group of people to work with,” Kelday said. “People go above and beyond. We try not to take it for granted … how lucky we feel.”
The book launch will also be the “soft launch” of the next phase of building Brigadoon: a major gifts campaign.
“It will essentially finish off this year’s work and look at net year and set the foundation for programming for the future, including subsidizing kids coming to camp,” McKeage said.
There is still room for giving to Brigadoon and space for more campers, he added.
“It's just getting the word out over and over again.”
Contact the camp at firstname.lastname@example.org or 422-3387.
Who is at Brigadoon this summer?
• Camp for children and youth who are blind or visually impaired
children and youth receiving APSEA services
• BraveHeart Camp (Cardiology)
• Celiac Camp (A Canadian first!)
• Camp Treasure Chest (Asthma)
• Open Family Camp: for families with a child with a chronic illness, condition or special need.
• Camp Natawe’ige (Learning Disabilities)
• Kidney Camp
• Arthritis Camp
• Camp Goodtime (Cancer)
• Camp Guts and Glory (Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis)
• Down Syndrome Family Camp
• Brainchild Family Camp (Brain Tumours)
• Heart Talk (Cardiology)
• About Face (Teens with facial differences)
• Autism Family Camp