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Posted: June 15, 2015

Blue Lake has camp for kids with exceptional needs

This August, children and youth from the Basin will have the opportunity to participate in a specialized summer camp close to home.

Located 40 minutes south of Fairmont Hot Springs and 90 minutes north of Cranbrook, Blue Lake Centre has been a top destination for environment education programming for over 35 years. A pilot project at Blue Lake Centre will allow campers with special needs to access summer camp opportunities without having to travel outside the region.

Blue Lake Executive Director Todd Hebert was approached by a number of parents with the idea to add summer programming specifically for children with special needs. Parents were concerned with the costs and stress associated with having to send their children away to locations in the Okanagan, Alberta, or as far as Ontario in order to attend summer camps. Often siblings and friends were participating in Blue Lake programs and parents wanted their children to have the same experience.

“The camp community provides a positive supportive environment for children and the impact from attending camp can last a lifetime. With few, if any, special needs outdoor overnight camping facilities in the Basin, Blue Lake decided to pursue the opportunity to assist those families with a locally organized program,” says Hebert, “This kind of programming it vitally important. The response has been overwhelming from parents who are interested and keen as well as a number of community members who are interested in this moving forward so it’s been really exciting for us.”

Dubbed Camp for Kids with Exceptional Needs, programming will focus on Blue Lake’s standard recreational activities such as canoeing, arts and crafts, and swimming. Environment education programming like water, soil, forest, and wildlife learning will be available as well. A group of parents and professionals including social workers, special services coordinators, special educator coordinators, and teachers became an advisory committee to assist Blue Lake to create a plan for program adaptations and alternatives to programs as required depending on the needs of the campers.

Another component to the program will be a peer mentorship program open to youth with special needs aged 17-29. The camp plans to identify five to six youth interested in leadership development and take them through their regular staff-training program. They will then job shadow staff during the Camp for Kids with Exceptional Needs.

Carolyn McLean of the Cranbrook Aspergers/autism parent support group was one of the parents that initially approached Blue Lake with the idea. “With Camp for KIDS with Exceptional Needs, our children can meet new people and make new friendships. With autism that can be difficult,” says Mclean, “Blue Lake is giving parents and children opportunities to experience a camp in a safe and supportive way. Making a dream become a reality for parents and kids in the Kootenays.”

Funding provided through Columbia Basin Trust’s Social Grants has helped to offset some of the costs. “Without funding from CBT this project would not move forward. External funding such as that from CBT is absolutely vital to our programs. That is what allows the flexibility to consider new programming.” To provide this experience to as many youth as possible, additional funding will be available to campers through the Blue Paddle Campership Fund.

Camp for Kids with Exceptional Needs will take place from August 16-19. Registration is open to everyone and a system is in place to determine the level of care required. Blue Lake will do their best to meet that requirement.

For more information visit the Blue Lake Centre website at www.bluelakecentre.com or call 250-426-3676.

Blue Lake Forest Education Society

Photo by Cheryl Kelly

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