Brightening up young lives
By: Kevin Rollason
For 39 years, Winnipeggers have been helping us make summer camp an adventure for children who wouldn’t otherwise be able to attend — now we’re hoping you’ll celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Winnipeg Free Press Sunshine Fund by donating again.
We’re looking for the children who are now adults — likely with children or even grandchildren of their own — who went to summer camp with the help of the Sunshine Fund to come forward to become Sunshine Fund alumni.
It’s been 40 years since the Free Press launched the fund that has paid for thousands of children to leave the concrete urban centre of Winnipeg to go to rural summer camps to perhaps canoe and kayak for the first time, sleep in a tent under the stars, ride a horse or participate in an amateur theatre show.
Daniel Sprintz knows what the Sunshine Fund can do for a child.
When Sprintz was seven in 1987, he walked through the front gates of Camp Massad at Winnipeg Beach for the first time and had one of the best experiences of his life. He went back several more times, became a camp counsellor and now, more than three decades later, he is the camp’s executive director.
Sprintz says he didn’t know until later that the Sunshine Fund got him to the camp and, as he readily admits, where he is today.
The May 26, 1979 edition of the Winnipeg Free Press announced
the Sunshine Fund campaign to help send kids to camp.
"I was just a kid enjoying my summer. I really didn’t have that much of
an idea of my status financially as a family."
Sprintz said he and his brother were raised by their mother, who had to
work hard to make ends meet.
"For her it was a challenge to afford camp," he said. "With the help of the Sunshine Fund, I was able to go to camp from 1987 to 1994.
"The experiences I had at camp were my first leadership and first working job experience. I learned tact and I learned leadership here."
The Sunshine Fund began in 1979, the same year Pink Floyd released The Wall and Michael Jackson debuted his first solo album, Off the Wall — still a few years away from recording Thriller.
Away from popular music, the year also saw Margaret Thatcher elected for the first time as British prime minister, the Three Mile Island nuclear accident, the Soviet Union invade Afghanistan, the return of the Ayatollah Khomeini to Iran, the deposing of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin and the hostage taking of Americans at the U.S. embassy in Iran.
In Canada, the Supreme Court ruled that the creation of officially unilingual legislatures in Manitoba and Quebec was unconstitutional, former NDP premier Ed Schreyer was appointed governor general, and Canadians watched the election of the minority government of Joe Clark as well as its defeat on a non-confidence vote just days before the end of the year.
But, on the front page of the Free Press at the beginning of summer in 1979, a column said that "for thousands of Manitoba children, a week or two at camp is the highlight of their summer holidays.
But for more than 1,000 others, it’s only a dream. The problem is simple. They just can’t afford to go.
"But with the help of our readers, the Free Press hopes to quickly change that. Today,
we’re launching a fundraising drive aimed at giving a rewarding camping experience
to hundreds of kids now unable to afford it.
"The Free Press Sunshine Fund, which will become an annual appeal, is aimed
specifically at helping those children who would otherwise be turned away from
a camping holiday for lack of funds or sponsors."
Kim Scherger, the executive director of the Manitoba Camping Association, said many
children have attended and continue to go to camp because of the generous
contributions of Free Press readers.
"We found information that we were at 24,000 people who have gone to camp because
of the Sunshine Fund over the years," Scherger said. "Since 1979, there has been
approximately $5.8 million donated."
Last year, donations sent 614 kids to camp. But it wasn’t enough. Sadly, 50 kids weren’t
able to go because there weren’t enough donations.
"My ballpark this year is to have 650 kids go to camp," Scherger said. "If we can get that
extra 50 kids to camp this year, that would be great."
Will you help them get there? And, if you were one of those who benefitted from the Sunshine Fund, will you help others and let us know who you are?
After all, a Sunshine Fund only turns 40 once, but the benefits for children last forever.
KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES
Sunshine Fund honorary chairman Fred Penner with Roxanne Heindl, 9, and Micheal Phillips, 7, as they sign up for camp in March 1989.
HOW TO HELP THE SUNSHINE FUND:
To donate, send cheques to
the Winnipeg Free Press Sunshine Fund
c/o Unit F-1215 Henderson Hwy., Winnipeg, MB, R2G 1L8.
You can donate in person with a cheque during office hours or in
a locked mailbox outside their door. You can also call in with a
credit card number to 204.784.1130.
Or you can donate online by going to https://www.mbcamping.ca/
and clicking through to the fund’s Canada Helps donation page.
If you are an alumni, please contact
Rick Scherger at the Manitoba Camping Association. He can be reached at 204.293.7339 or