By Deron Hamel
“If he succeeds at camp, he’ll succeed in life.”
This was the message a neurologist had for Renee Long after learning Renee was sending her son, Finlay, to Summerfest Camp.
Those words have certainly rung true, Renee says.
Finlay, now 14, has attended Summerfest, a camping experience for children and youths aged six to 15 who are living with seizure disorders, for five summers.
Renee says she has seen Finlay grow in many ways since he started attending Summerfest, which is held every July and August at Camp Couchiching near Orillia.
The Summerfest Camp experience, Renee says, has helped her son learn about others. It has provided him with more independence and self-initiative, she adds.
For example, Renee says Finlay woke up at 7:30 one morning at camp and decided to help the cook for three hours. Why? Because he knew the dishes in the kitchen would be piling up and there was no one else offering to help.
“The length of three hours of solid work shows determination, as he had not done anything like this before,” Renee says.
Summerfest Camp has been an opportunity for Finlay to make valuable social connections. Renee says Finlay and another camper became friends at Summerfest. The two would have in-depth discussions, which Renee says wasn’t happening when Finlay was at school.
“It is another proud moment,” Renee says. “I see a different young boy returning from camp to open an early preview of the young man he is meant to be.”
Renee and her husband learned about Summerfest Camp through Epilepsy Toronto. While the couple was at first hesitant about Finlay being away from home, another parent “strongly encouraged” them to send Finlay to Camp Couchiching.
Renee says she and her husband are glad they took this advice.
“He has grown in independence, self-esteem, initiation and making friends over this summer,” she says of her son.
Renee says Finlay also enjoys the activities Summerfest Camp offers. Some of his favourite programs have been paddle-boarding, kayaking and outdoor living skills.
“He (also) enjoyed being away from his parents, which is invaluable to learn to negotiate in another environment and make his own decisions,” Renee says.
Finlay has enjoyed the outdoor aspect of being at Summerfest Camp as well, Renee says. He especially enjoys walking around the camp and being in the midst of nature.
“He says the trees and the sounds of the birds calm him,” Renee says. “When he returned home, he had a transition back to the city and immediately missed the outdoor camp environment. The exposure to water activities, campers and learning were wonderful for him.”
Aside from the social and emotional benefits Summerfest Camp has provided Finlay, Renee says she has also seen physical benefits.
Renee is a craniosacral therapist and she has been treating Finlay since he was 2 1/2 years old. During a visit to Summerfest Camp one weekend, Renee gave Finlay a treatment and was surprised by what she found.
“His body was the healthiest I have observed since the third return of his seizures over a year ago,” Renee says. “The brain membranes were relaxed, his whole body was alive, rather than taxed by the seizures. …
“I was astounded by the benefits of an outdoor environment, fun, friendships, the lake, and having the opportunity to exercise every day (has had on Finlay). I will always be thankful for the priceless gift (Summerfest Camp has) given Finlay.”