The best success stemming from Summerfest, Epilepsy Ontario’s annual camp program for children living with epilepsy, is that it has been creating independence and self-esteem for children and youth since 1994, says founder Anita Allen, neurology clinic nurse at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids).
For 18 years, Summerfest has seen an average of 20 to 40 children and youth attend each Summerfest session, where they participate in activities such as hiking, kayaking and sports at Camp Couchiching, near Orillia.
Allen says she started the camp simply because it filled an important need.
“There aren’t too many overnight camps that will take the responsibility of taking a child with epilepsy,” she says.
“(Summerfest) opens up their 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. At camp, they can explore their surroundings, explore what they want to do, (and see) what they succeed at.”
Allen notes that children living with epilepsy often live lives with limitations. Summerfest strives to remove those limitations.
She points out that there is some degree of risk with any child attending any camp, but that those small risks should not dominate a child’s life or prevent them from doing the things they want to do. To mitigate risks at Summerfest, there is close supervision and appropriate nursing care is offered on site.
Once children leave Summerfest, the successes and accomplishments they achieved go with them, and this greater sense of self-esteem can be carried into other aspects of their lives, Allen notes.
“It is largely about (helping) kids grow up,” she says.
Today, Allen’s connection to Summerfest is largely in a recruitment role. To attract campers, she sends information from Epilepsy Ontario about Summerfest to Ontario children’s hospitals, which post the information in their facilities. The goal is to attract children and youth from across the province.
Allen also reviews applications that go through Epilepsy Ontario, highlighting key issues. If she doesn’t know the children, she arranges for the campers and their parents to meet with her at SickKids to discover what they hope to get out of Summerfest and whether or not they need mentoring.
Allen says she continues to stay involved with Summerfest after all these years because most people don’t have the time required to be involved with the program. Knowing the positive impact Summerfest has on children is what continues to drive her, she says.
If you would like to donate to the Summerfest Camp program, please click here.
If you have feedback on this story, please contact the newsroom at 800-294-0051, ext. 23, or e-mail deron(at)axiomnews.ca, or leave a comment below.
Writer: Deron Hamel