Camp coordinator, Amy, prepares to deliver activity bags full of supplies for Summer in the City’s virtual campers.

For over 15 years, we have been offering a free summer camp called Summer in the City to children from low-income families in Calgary. Many of those who participate have multiple risk factors that stem from their family’s financial insecurity, such as increased risk of mental health challenges, difficulty at school and more. Camp provides them with a safe place where they can connect, learn, experience new things, get to know their peers and take pride in their communities.

As our Board Member, Dean Mullin, said, participating in summer camp “can change the trajectory of a child’s life.”

When COVID-19 hit, we weren’t sure how we would be able to offer Summer in the City. We knew we wouldn’t have the resources to keep 30 children safe and physically distanced in an enclosed space, or even outdoors.

But, we knew how important it was to offer some form of camp to children who otherwise wouldn’t be able to access activities this summer. So we quickly got creative and started planning how to deliver a “virtual” summer camp experience to keep these children connected at such a critical time.

Children like Linzy*, 11, who was able to attend two camp sessions once our staff realized her parents didn’t have the means to provide her with other opportunities. Linzy says she had “so much fun” at camp, and was even able to build relationships with her peers that she hopes will one day translate off-screen. “I hope we get to see each other in person!” she says as she plans a socially distanced bike ride with one of her fellow campers.

Another camper, Taylor*, 11, was thrilled when we were able to provide her with a computer, thanks to our donors and supporters, that allowed her to participate in camp. Her mom couldn’t believe she was lucky enough to receive a laptop, giving her daughter a whole new online world to explore.

“It’s a strange new world,” says Amy, Summer in the City coordinator and Youth Facilitator at Closer to Home’s new North Central Family Resource Network (FRN). “I was nervous the first couple of days, but once we all started getting to know each other and got settled in, we all relaxed. It is so nice to see how excited the kids are to be there.”

Amy has also been getting to know many of the parents whose children are participating, and says it’s been a great way to connect with families in the FRN’s new neighbourhood.

Closer to Home is always focused on supporting families full-circle, going beyond the initial need they come to us for help with. Many summer camp parents have also participated in our Money Management courses, received basic needs support when they needed help putting food on their table at home, and some are even starting up their own mask-making group.

“It all started with dropping off supplies to one mom and starting a conversation with her,” says Amy.

While the online experience of summer camp is certainly different, Amy welcomed the challenge and focused on how she could make this opportunity fun, exciting, and different from the online schooling kids have been involved with over the last few months.

So far this summer, the kids have learned about Indigenous drumming and beading, made friendship bracelets, choreographed dance routines, participated in macramé weaving and more. They’ve even started to learn how to play the ukulele – and will get to keep their instruments so they can continue exploring their musical talents long after summer camp ends.

“This is a safe place for kids to learn new things, meet new friends and continue growing into curious, capable young adults,” Amy says.

“I had a really great time in the online summer camp,” says Cody*, 12, who particularly enjoyed the yoga lessons, which helped “calm his nerves”. “I felt this camp made my summer a little bit more fun – something different to do for this summer. With the COVID virus, it’s a chance to still be with people online and share and learn.”

As the kids begin preparing to head back to school this fall, they are grateful for the opportunity to continue building friendships over these unique summer months. So, when camp ends, they know it’s not goodbye. It’s kiatamaa’tsin (Blackfoot for “I’ll see you again”).

Special thanks to our amazing guest speakers and partners, including Renfrew Educational Services, Imperial Academy of Music, Antyx Community Arts, Outbound Yoga Calgary, Darcy Turning Robe, and our generous donors and funders who make this program possible.

* Names changed to protect privacy

Chip in for Kids!

#ChipinforKids to help give children and youth in need the opportunity to access programs and services that help them improve their mental health, learn important life skills, build their confidence, healthily engage with peers and adults in their lives, and more. This support is especially critical this year, as children and youth recover from the mental health and educational impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Text KIDS068 to 30333 to donate $10 to Closer to Home, and Shaw will match your donation to help support kids in Alberta!