A CAMP FOR ALL KIDS: Inclusive Surrey summer camp gets $25K boost

WHALLEY — A tire swing hanging from a branch of a perfect-for-climbing old tree in the middle of a field in Whalley is straight out of any young adventurer’s dream.

In front of it sits a colourful playhouse covered in small painted handprints left by those happily running around it.

Dozens of children are in the fenced field, some sitting down eating lunch, others chasing a friend, some hanging off the playhouse.

It’s what you’d expect a summer camp to look like.

But this isn’t your typical summer camp.

Based out of and run by Surrey Urban Mission Society (SUMS), children get the full camp experience – from trips to the beach to making all kinds of crafts.

What’s different is that the kids usually come from families that couldn’t otherwise afford to send them to camp.

The mission asks for $50 a week, but no one will ever be turned away if they can’t pay, said director Jonquil Hallgate.

Running a little-to-no-cost camp isn’t easy, she explains. That’s why on this day, Hallgate couldn’t stop smiling.

Bruce Kehler, CEO of Canex Building Supplies, donated $25,000 to make the camp happen this year.

It was with tears that Kehler told 70-odd children why he wanted to support the camp.

"My parents scraped together, saved, to send myself and my brothers and sisters to summer camp for a week or two weeks every summer," he told the crowd.

"My memories of my time at Camp Homewood (in Campbell River), it all flashes back as I look around the room. I believe my memories carried with me for 40 or 50 years and I trust each and every one of you children, that what you will experience at the summer camp this year will never be forgotten and I trust that it will help you step off the foundation to a much bigger, brighter, better future."

The mission’s programming is reaching farther than the camp-goers. The volunteers are finding their lives enriched as well.

Simren Boyal chuckled as he said his mom forced him to volunteer at the summer camp for one week five years ago. That one week turned into the whole summer as he fell in love with the work.

And he’s been a regular volunteer since.

"Me, as a kid, I got everything I wanted almost. For these kids, it’s not the same thing. Just seeing a smile on their faces, that’s the rewarding part. There’s a reason many of us come back for four or five years."

Boyal noted SUMS’ daycamp is inclusive – not only based on income, but also to disabilities.

This year’s camp includes one boy who is autistic and another who has a developmental disability.

When they say anyone who walks through the door is welcome, they mean it.

"Our camp motto is just find a way," said Boyal. "We don’t always have the greatest supplies, and those sorts of things, but it’s all about finding a way."

Before his time volunteering as a camp leader, Boyal said he was the kid on his PlayStation2. Now, he gets involved in his community.

"I think it’s pushed me to be a better person."

Another day camp leader, Jagroop Kang, echoed that.

"When I first came to the mission, I didn’t really know that much about all the poverty in Surrey. It was a huge eye opener," he said.

"The mission has shown me a whole new world."

SUMS expects more than 100 children to take part in the camp throughout the summer.

areid@thenownewspaper.com

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