By Deron Hamel
Since Laura Cunningham’s daughter, Sara, began attending Summerfest Camp eight years ago, she has gained a lot of self-confidence and has discovered two passions: archery and swimming. Sara is also planning to complete training so she can become a camp counsellor.
Sara, now 15, attended Summerfest Camp for the first time when she was seven. Laura says she thought the experience was a “huge benefit” and Sara wanted to continue attending each summer.
“She has gained a lot of experience from (Summerfest Camp),” Laura tells Voices of Epilepsy. “She has grown with her maturity, with her confidence, with her self-esteem and she certainly has made tons of friends over the years.”
Held near Orillia at Camp Couchiching every summer, Summerfest Camp enables children aged six to 15 who are living with seizure disorders to attend camp with other children. The camp has the resources to meet the needs of children living with epilepsy and provides a setting where they can enjoy a carefree camping experience.
Like many parents, Laura says she was apprehensive the first year Sara went to camp.
“The first time she went to camp, I was obviously very nervous because she has epilepsy, so being away from home for two weeks and not knowing whether she would have a seizure while she was gone was pretty nerve-racking,” Laura recalls.
“But she definitely met all the challenges involved and she had a lot of fun, so that helped us the next summer when she wanted to attend again.”
Every summer Sara takes archery classes at Summerfest Camp, and it has become a passion of hers. She also takes instructional swimming and has reached her Level 8 Canadian Red Cross swimming certification, Laura says, noting Sara’s interests in archery and swimming have continued beyond camp.
Laura also commends the counsellors at Camp Couchiching. She notes that Sara has had three seizures on different occasions at camp. But the counsellors and nursing staff “went above and beyond” to keep her parents up to date on her condition and even stayed with her overnight when she had been admitted to hospital.
“Having such a great, caring staff has been amazing and we, as parents, know that she is in good hands while she is there,” Laura says.
Summerfest Camp was founded in 1994 by Anita Allen, a neurology clinic nurse at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids).
If you have feedback on this story, or have a story of your own that you would like to share, please contact the newsroom at 1-800-294-0051, ext. 23, or e-mail deron(at)axiomnews.com. You can also leave a comment below.