Summerfest, an inclusive two-week camp experience, is once again being offered by Epilepsy Ontario at Camp Couchiching. But spaces in the program, which is an opportunity for youths who have epilepsy to mature and gain independence and have fun, are quickly filling up and families should sign up now to ensure their sons and daughters can attend, says Epilepsy Ontario executive director Rozalyn Werner-Arcé.
Going into its 19th year, Summerfest has an average of 20 to 40 children and youths who have epilepsy attend the program, where they participate in activities such as swimming, hiking, kayaking and sports.
Summerfest enables children aged six to 15 who are living with seizure disorders to attend camp with other children. The camp provides a setting where children can “forget about their epilepsy and just be a kid,” says Werner-Arcé.
“It’s a real maturing experience,” she says. “They’re away from home for up to two weeks, so it helps them mature and it helps them gain independence and increase their self-esteem, and it helps them to realize their own capabilities and their own strengths.”
Summerfest also gives families respite, Werner-Arcé notes. It gives parents a chance to spend time with each other or with their other children. Since the camp has experienced counsellors and offers on-site nursing professionals who are well-versed in working with people who have seizure disorders, parents enjoy peace of mind knowing their children are safe and in good hands.
Summerfest was founded in 1994 by Anita Allen, a neurology clinic nurse at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids).
Today, Allen’s connection to Summerfest is largely in a recruitment and screening role.
“(Summerfest) opens up (children’s) independence and it gives them more self-esteem because they see successes; they see that they can do things. At school, they’re always told that’s not the way to do something, that they have to do it this way,” Allen earlier told Voices of Epilepsy.
“At camp, they can explore their surroundings, explore what they want to do, (and see) what they succeed at.”
Summerfest will offer four two-week sessions from June 30 to Aug. 31. Additionally, a one-week camp option is offered to first-time campers or children who have complex-care needs.
Summerfest is one of only two overnight camping programs offered in Ontario to children who have epilepsy, so Camp Couchiching’s efforts to provide an inclusive camping experience is held in high esteem, says Werner-Arcé.
“We really value our partners at Camp Couchiching, Epilepsy Toronto, and Anita Allen at SickKids for her help,” she says.
Families needing financial assistance to send their son or daughter to Summerfest can contact Epilepsy Ontario at 800-463-1119 to obtain an application, or visit the website at www.epilepsyontario.org.
Families needing financial assistance should contact Epilepsy Ontario as soon as possible, as funding is limited.
To register for Summerfest, or to get more information, families can visit Camp Couchiching’s website.
If you would like to donate to the Summerfest camp program, please click here.
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Writer: Deron Hamel