The building project is done. Now the hard work has begun at Brigadoon Village.
Abigail Sinclair can barely contain her excitement when talking about summer camp. The 13-year-old eighth grader has been attending The Canadian Cancer Society’s Camp Goodtime – a camp for children who are living with or beyond cancer – for the last six years. Two years ago, Camp Goodtime moved to Brigadoon Village, located on the shores of Aylesford Lake in the Annapolis Valley.
The Brigadoon Village location has made camp even more fun and exciting, says Abigail. “I like the staff a lot, but the lake is probably one of my favourite features of the camp itself.” She loves fishing and although she’s never caught a fish in the lake, nor has she ever met anyone who has, that won’t stop her from baiting her hook again this year.
Abigail also loves the chance to hang out with camp friends. Other Brigadoon campers understand her in a way most people can’t because they all know what it’s like to live with cancer. Abigail was diagnosed with leukemia at age three, and finished treatment by age six, but the bright, enthusiastic young woman still bears the scars of her fight.
When she’s at Brigadoon Village, there’s no need for her to explain things like healed incisions because other campers and staff “get it and understand and don’t give you strange looks,” she says. With camp friends, she gets to sleep out by the lake and sing camp songs.
“The highlight of Abigail’s year is going to Camp Goodtime at Brigadoon Village,” says Abigail’s father, Roger Sinclair. “The staff are 100 per cent dedicated to making the experience as fun and safe as possible. Abigail finished her treatment for leukemia in 2006, and now she has the opportunity to spend time with other children who have recently finished or are still are going through cancer treatment and provide support to them.
“It’s just very comforting to know that she is at a place that is fun, is equipped to handle any health needs that she may have and has people there, both other campers and staff, that love being there as much as she does.”
Camp also offers an often much needed break for parents, too, he adds. Brigadoon Village is the only facility in Atlantic Canada, and one of only a handful in the country, providing camp programs for children and youth living with a chronic illness, chronic condition or special need. They are the first in Canada to offer camps specifically for children with epilepsy.
Brigadoon Village plays a large role in the lives of the children who attend camp there. The organization is thankful to have many partner organizations and supporters who make it possible for them to host 50 to 70 campers, plus staff, each week during the summer months.
The $8.5-million facility hosts a different camp program each week, developed specifically for young people living with a particular health problem or condition. Children dealing with visual impairment, epilepsy, cardiac issues, kidney disease, arthritis, asthma, facial differences, cancer, Crohn’s disease and colitis, Celiac disease, and even suffering from the loss of a loved one, can find refuge from the realities of their struggles while at Brigadoon Village. For that one week, children can relax and share time with others their own age who are experiencing the same issues. It is often the only time each year where these extraordinary children can be ordinary.
The camp programs are customized to handle medical concerns or special needs which campers might have. There is a nurse on staff, available 24 hours a day. The camp menu is prepared by Le Cordon Bleu Institute executive chef Adam Langille and meals are always prepared to accommodate allergies or other special dietary requirements.
Activities and events are organized to ensure every camper gets the most out of the experience. At the beginning of the week, each camper chooses a “pursuit”. Pursuits can be anything from boating to improv to arts to the environment to swimming. On the last day of camp, each group puts on a presentation to show other campers what they have learned.
Brigadoon is entering its fourth year of operation and expects more than 530 campers this summer, an increase of almost 40 per cent over last year. Camp programs are also being extended to include children outside of Atlantic Canada. Twenty-four young people from other regions have been sponsored by Crohn’s and Colitis Canada and Janssen pharmaceuticals to attend Camp Guts & Glory, a program designed especially for children living with Crohn’s disease and colitis.
Since only some of Brigadoon’s campers are sponsored to attend camp through partner organizations like The Canadian Cancer Society and The Arthritis Society, Brigadoon is undertaking an initiative that seeks the support of businesses across the region.
“Our goal with this initiative is to engage other organizations and businesses across Atlantic Canada so that we can continue to offer camp programs for Atlantic Canadian children. We offer opportunities to support Brigadoon Village at various levels so it’s possible for the smallest businesses and largest corporations to directly send kids to our unique camp programs,” explains Brigadon Village’s Executive Director, David Graham.
With the specialized camp programs costing approximately $1,000 per week per child, the new tiered program allows organizations to sponsor children to attend camp with levels starting at five children for $5,000 up to $50,000 or more. It is hoped that organizations will agree to a three to five year commitment to the program. To properly recognize supporters, the initiative will include a permanent recognition piece at the Village featuring the names of supporters, as well as personal thank-you letters from campers, and yearly recognition plaques, along with a suite of other co-branded benefits to promote the organizations’ involvement with Brigadoon Village. Businesses committing to the highest level of contribution can choose to be included as a specific camp sponsor; Every time that particular camp is mentioned in the media, the business would be acknowledged for supporting their community.
Individuals who wish to donate to Brigadoon can do so in many ways. Some give a general donation to help sponsor a child’s stay at camp, or give a gift in memoriam. Groups can organize independent fundraisers such as a golf tournament or event, something the staff at Brigadoon Village are happy to assist with. A great example of such an initiative is The BIG SWIM. In 2011, a team swam from N.B. to P.E.I, raising $55,000. The BIG SWIM was so successful that the event was held again in 2012 and 2013, and the excitement and planning has already begun for this year’s swim on August 17 with a goal to raise $150,000.
Other groups have come together to join fundraising runs. The Brigadoon Bluenose Marathon team, known as the “Brigadoon Bunch,” raises money each year through race pledges in the Scotiabank Charity Challenge. The Brigadoon Bunch are being coached by volunteer ambassadors and receive regular fundraising tips to help Brigadoon reach its goal of raising $25,000 through the challenge. Brigadoon Village runs year-round. Besides offering family camps and retreats for its core mandate groups and partners, the modern, well-equipped facilities can be rented by groups and organizations from September to June. It’s the ideal location to host conferences, retreats, school trips and meetings.
The dining hall features a wraparound deck, spectacular lake views and seats up to 180 people. Customized meals and snacks are provided by Executive Chef Adam. Event organizers can arrange for the dining hall to be set up for buffets, banquets and other special occasions. There is also a classroom that can accommodate 30 people and an arts hall that can seat up to 100.
What was once just a dream is now a reality. Staff, counsellors, volunteers and most importantly, campers, are counting down the days until the Brigadoon flag is raised on June 29, marking the beginning of another summer full of incredible memories, lifelong friendships and the opportunity for extraordinary children to be ordinary for a week. As a 2013 camper explains, “Camp means everything to me. Before camp I felt so different and ashamed that I couldn’t run or do certain things like other kids. It makes me so happy to meet other kids that go through the same thing and who will support me forever through times when I am sick. I love playing games and not feeling bad because I have to stop or can’t do it. I love everything about camp!”